The Bionic Bar on board selected Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

Artificial Intelligence: How Robots Are Infiltrating the World of Travel

25 January 2017
Read Time: 2.7 mins

If you happen to be passing through Japan’s Narita International Airport this week, keep an eye out for HOSPI(R) the robot, who will be collecting dishes at the airport, following a successful week of delivering drinks at ANA Crowne Plaza Narita.

The Autonomous Delivery Robot, being tested by Panasonic, is the latest in a stream of robots taking up roles in the travel industry.

Using pre-programmed maps and high-performance sensors, HOSPI(R) can move about without bumping into people or objects along its route. In fact, it is already working in four hospitals in Japan to deliver pharmaceuticals.




It’s not the first time robots have been used for customer service in hotels. If you check in to the Marriott Hotel in the Belgian city of Ghent, you might meet Mario, a robot receptionist who speaks 19 languages.  The Residence Inn Marriott at LAX, meanwhile, has Wally, the room-service robot.

Hilton piloted Connie the Concierge last year at the Hilton McLean in Virginia, USA, to answer questions about nearby restaurants and tourist attractions, as well as the hotel.

The Henn-na Hotel in Japan has taken things a step further, with multi-lingual robots (one humanoid and two dinosaurs) at the front desk, a robotic arm to store your luggage in the cloakroom, and porter robots to carry bags to your room.



And Aloft Hotels has introduced Botlr, a robot butler (who can be tipped with tweets), using technology from Savioke, a California start-up that has a stable of a dozen or so ‘autonomous robot helpers’ across the United States.


Airports, too, have seen robots take off, with Spencer the robot completing tests at Amsterdam Schipol Airport last year, successfully guiding KLM passengers to their departure gate.

Spencer the information robot at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Spencer the robot completed his helpful mission at Schiphol Airport last year. Image: KLM

Etihad Aviation Group raised the prospect of robot check-in and lounge staff at Abu Dhabi Airport during its Innovation Week late last year. And Dubai, home of robot jockeys, is reportedly planning to introduce robots at Dubai Airport to help with visas.

In Taipei, EVA Air’s peppy robot Pepper scanned boarding passes at Songshan International Airport last month.


In the skies, the US government is working with industry on a program called ALIAS, to create a robot co-pilot to help human co-pilots. Associated Press reported on a successful demonstration last year, where a robot flew a single-engine Cessna Caravan, based on commands from a human pilot in the next seat.

Air New Zealand is using robots in a different way, working with Christchurch-based company Invert Robotics to trial wall-climbing, camera-mounted robots to inspect its aircraft for damage.

Cruise Ships

Robot bartenders at the Bionic Bar on board Royal Caribbean cruise ships. Robot bartenders mix it with the best of them at Royal Caribbean's Bionic Bar. Image: RCI

Royal Caribbean International has also raised a glass to robotics with its Bionic Bar, where robotic bartenders concoct cocktails to order. And another Pepper has boarded Costa Cruises’ Costa Diadema, to entertain passengers.


Robots are also around to help you with your luggage –air transport communications and IT specialist SITA trialled Leo the robot at Geneva Airport, to help with bag drops. The self-propelling baggage robot can check-in, print bag tags and transport up to two suitcases. Or how about Cowa Robot? This robot suitcase follows you around the airport.

Tourist Attractions

It’s not just transport and accommodation – robots have infiltrated tourist attractions, as well, such as the Art Gallery of WA. Venture into the gallery on the fourth Saturday of the month to meet Aggie the robot, who offers guided tours at 11am and children’s art classes at 1pm.

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Renae Spinks

Travel for me is about conversations and connections. There’s nothing like setting foot in a new land and meeting people a world apart. From talking to North Sea fishermen in Norway’s Lofoten Islands to breakfast chat at a B&B in my own back yard, there’s always a story to share and a tale to tell.