By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
LAS VEGAS — To say RLHC (formerly Red Lion) is technology forward is an understatement. Among the many innovations on display at the company's brand conference was a robot from Peanut Robotics.
The video at the RLHC conference last month showed a robot repeatedly scrubbing a sink. It wasn't as efficient as a housekeeper, but it never tired or got bored of the repetitive action. And, using artificial intelligence, the machine was learning the differences between a dirty spot that needed to be scrubbed and a spot that was already clean.
It has a shelf and can carry things. It doesn't get disgusted when collecting soiled linens and terry, stripping a bed or moving the linens to the hallway. It doesn't mind if the work is strenuous, or requires strong chemicals.
“Two years ago, we announced that robots were coming,” said John Edwards, senior vice-president and chief information officer at RLHC. “We met Joe Augenbraun, CEO of Peanut Robotics through our Board of Directors. He showed us what Peanut can do. The robots will absolutely be working with our housekeeping staff — the goal is to let robots supplement housekeepers and improve customer service, allowing the housekeeping department to focus on cleanliness and make tasks more efficient.”
“It's not a big problem to make a robot clean thoroughly,” said Augenbraun, a self-described serial entrepreneur. “The problem is how fast it cleans — making it per unit labour effective. With artificial intelligence the robot starts to learn, e.g., the dirty versus the clean part of a sink. it collects photographs and feeds them into a neural network and learns to just concentrate on the dirty spots. As it speeds up, it gets closer to the speed of a person. It will never be the speed of a person because of safety concerns — it will probably top out at three-quarters of the speed of a person.
“I don't want to sell robots,” Augenbraun noted, adding he would rather provide them on an hourly basis that is attractive to hoteliers.
RLHC will have two pilot projects in 2019. They will be working in model rooms at Corporate Headquarters to map out how this works, so they know what the robot can do in a lab. Then, working with Amanda Marcello's and Harry Sladich's teams, they will choose two pilot hotels this year, and will learn how to do a mass rollout in 2020. Sladich is executive vice-president, Franchise Operations & Global Sales.
“We want to make the pilots successful, and pick the right hotel, management and property team,” said Edwards.
“Once we understand the pricing and how feasible it is, we will work with our economy operators,” said Marcello, senior vice-president, Brand Strategy. “If we show value equations, they will be receptive. The costs will come down as the cost of labour continues to rise, and we will find out if it can be a viable solution for economy hoteliers.”
Said Augenbraun, “We're learning how to improve the experience of the customer. In a budget property, luggage can be taken somewhere. We can offer some of the services of luxury properties, providing more and better service.”