Robots filling in staffing shortages at some California hotels with no tips expected

SILICON VALLEY, Calif. -- Hotels, like restaurants, have been hard pressed to provide attentive service due to staffing shortages during the pandemic.

In northern California's Silicon Valley, robots are filling the gap to the surprise and delight of guests.

This is how the Radisson Sunnyvale is dealing with staffing shortages - A guest would like a soft drink delivered to the room. In the past, someone from the front desk or sometimes even the general manager might step up. Now, a robot, designed by Savioke in Campbell, will handle the task.

"They're in this kind of crunch mode where the higher paid staff are filling in for things that frankly robots can do," said Savioke CEO Steve Cousins.

The robot needs to be trained only once to navigate the lobby and hallways. It even has been adapted to call for an elevator. Once inside, it can press the destination floor.

Hotel corridors can be tricky to navigate, even for humans, with housekeeping carts and other guests.

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So what happens when this robot comes, and someone is in the way? The robot is programmed to avoid obstacles, human or otherwise, so it will try to go around. If, as sometimes happens, a person is uncertain which direction to move and does a zig-zag, the robot reacts in a similar fashion, seeming to do a dance, even spinning around in search of a safer maneuver.

It's that playful characteristic that makes the robot almost human.

It can really be good at getting around people. A video taken in the lobby of a busy Las Vegas hotel during a major convention shows how well it avoided contact when surrounded by a crowd.

Once the robot gets to the room requesting something, it calls the guest to announce its arrival.

This recording is played: "Our robot is waiting outside your door to pick it up."

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The message is followed by sound effects mimicking what you'd expect to hear from robots like Wall-E or R2D2.

The robot opens its compartment door, and there's the soft drink the guest requested.

There's also a bonus: "You don't have to tip it. You know, there's no obligation, there's no handout. And you don't even have to get dressed for it," said Savioke's CEO.

The robot has reduced room service delivery time from 30 down to five minutes in many cases. It also reduces COVID anxiety.

"There are guests that like the fact that they can have items delivered and not have that contact with a human being," said Radisson Sunnyvale general manager Alex Martinez. "It's more of an enhanced experience than it is replacing someone."

The robot's on call 24/7. It doesn't have days off or take vacations.

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