The pandemic upended many sectors with mass layoffs at the beginning of COVID-19 and ended with record labor shortages. The hospitality sector in particular was deeply hit with massive unemployment gaps that ran well above the national unemployment rate during the pandemic. While other industries have started on the road to recovery, the hospitality industry is still 2.8 million jobs shy of where it was in February 2020.
With more than 60% of Americans willing to travel again, 55% of U.S. companies planning to resume business travel within the next three months and more than a third of current hospitality workers planning to exit the industry, the hotel industry is in a bind.
Long-term labor solutions in the area are needed to meet the rising demand for travel and seismic shifts in the hospitality workforce. This is where 3D camera-equipped robots can play a role. Robots are some of the most impactful forms of hospitality technology hoteliers can invest in to maintain efficiency, serve guests and aid understaffed operations.
From retail stores to the hospitality realm, customer-facing industries are already solving staffing shortages and improving operations through robots equipped with 3D imaging sensors. For example, restaurants have added self-navigating robots for food delivery and table bussing while grocery chains have discovered that robots can assist in cleaning, providing stock management alerts and checkout duties.
These tasks are typically limited in their customer-facing duties but are repetitive and time-consuming activities that are easily programmed into digital sidekicks. This makes robots an ideal solution to the staffing shortages many hotel properties are experiencing. Properties of all sizes are starting to realize the practical uses for service robots - or “co-bots,” which work alongside humans to extend and improve performance, taking the burden off human workers so they can handle more demanding responsibilities.
A popular function behind the implementation of 3D camera-embedded robots is the ability to increase self-service functionality, increase convenience and improve customer experiences for guests. Mobile robots can perform navigation tasks that include guiding guests to their rooms and delivering commonly requested room service items such as pillows, blankets, towels and toiletries. They can even operate as roving security guards throughout the property.
3D facial authorization, like the technology used to unlock your smartphone, can be employed to recognize guests and address them by name, adding a sense of personalization and high-class service. Meanwhile, guests can say goodbye to fumbling for key cards, and hotel staff no longer have to worry about reprinting numerous key cards.
Housekeeping and sanitization may be the most demanded and high-ROI use of 3D robots. Robots can manage in-room and common area cleaning tasks such as vacuuming and sanitation, while specially equipped units can completely disinfect high-touch areas and items. Equipped with a UV light and disinfectant sprays, these popular cleaning companions can eliminate germs off the surface of elevator buttons, doorknobs and TV remotes in just seconds.
3D cameras are the key to robots handling tasks alongside human workers. 3D camera technology enables mobile robots to identify and avoid obstacles and people with extreme accuracy. The camera technology can accurately perceive depth to navigate highly populated space: From high foot traffic in hallways to luggage and bags stacked in lobbies, 3D robots can navigate through it all. Using their depth-sensing capabilities, they can also spot anomalies like an open hallway door or atypical presence of individuals in a given space.
When combined with SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping), the technology that scans and creates a digital map of the space, self-propelled 3D service bots can deliver food, drinks and other amenities anywhere within the hotel property. No matter the obstacle, SLAM-supported 3D can seamlessly navigate and deliver guests what they need.
Cobalt Robotics and Bear Robotics are two companies utilizing 3D camera technology in the hospitality robotics sector. Cobalt Robotics, a U.S.-based company, develops 3D camera-equipped robots available for security, facilities management and concierge services. Bear Robotics offers robots specializing in food service deployments. The cost of utilizing robot workers in these instances is often comparable or less than an hourly worker. Combine these savings with the elimination of sick days, injuries or other disruptions and hotel managers are left with a more cost-effective way to handle routine tasks.
Another vital form of ROI in employing 3D robots in hotels is that they can collect data on guest preferences, facility status and upkeep, security and more. This information is critical in helping hotels run more efficiently and with a greater focus on customer satisfaction.
The pandemic has created vast uncertainty for the hospitality industry. It remains to be seen how guest bookings and behaviors, hospitality economics or competitive activity will change for the long-haul post-pandemic.
What is certain, however, is that labor will be forever impacted - and that technology, specifically reliable and multifunctional robots, will be part of the future of hotels.