Last year, Aloft Cupertino debuted Botlr, reputedly the first hotel robot butler, and now its sister hotel, Aloft Silicon Valley, also has one roving the lobby. This fall, another Botlr hit the road for a meet-and-greet tour, stopping at various Aloft hotels — as the marketing tag has it: #MeetBotlr
Developed by Savioke (which has also designed a similar robot called Dash, which began work at the Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley last summer), Botlr is designed to help out with menial tasks. Say you've forgotten your toothbrush. You call the front desk for one, and Botlr is loaded up and programmed with your room number. The hotel's layout is pre-mapped in his circuitry, and he operates by sensors, so he can get around without bumping into objects or people. (A clumsy butler doesn't look good.) Botlr finds the elevator, and his built-in Wi-Fi allows him to plug in your floor number. He rolls along to your door and a call is sent to your phone so you know he's there. Botlr's sensors tell him you've opened the door, and his top lid pops open to offer you a toothbrush. A touch screen allows you to rate your experience. And when your interaction is done, Botlr does a little jig. He looks happy, and you feel happy — because instead of a tip, Botlr just wants to be tweeted about.
Botlr doesn't talk, but preprogrammed words pan across his screen. In motion, he looks like an adorable animated rubbish bin. At least, we presume he is a he. ("We do think of him as a he," says Paige Francis, vice president of Starwood Global Specialty Brands, including Aloft.
It's not certain that the Aloft Boston Seaport, which is set to open in early February, will have a Botlr: "It's possible," says Francis. "Eventually, all Aloft hotels could have one. . . . It is perfect for the brand's more streamlined service approach."
But is Botlr just a cute gimmick or an actual asset? "When the front desk is at its busiest and Botlr can take care of these small things immediately and help out, he has proven a valuable team member," says Francis. "Our associates really appreciate his help."
Botlr is the latest in a spate of high-tech services adopted by Aloft, which is part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. Five years ago, the SPG app (Starwood Preferred Guest is the company's loyalty program) did away with regular key cards, allowing smartphone check-in that bypasses the front desk. The hotel's newer TiGi (Text it. Get it.) program includes an emoji room service menu. And though it's a ways off, Aloft is planning virtual reality music performances in its WXYZ bars. "It will feel just like a live performance," Francis says.
Aloft is adapting its property infrastructure to accommodate these and other technological advances. "Design innovation is at the core of the brand," says Francis. "Our customers tend to be early adapters of technology. This brand was built on being tech forward."
Linda Clarke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.