My Insane and Unexpected Experience with Starwood Hotel’s Robot Butler, Botlr
I love Starwood Hotels. Maybe I was brainwashed by other travel bloggers but ever since I started traveling, I’ve always made it a point to book SPG Hotels. On a recent one night stay in Miami, I booked a room at the Element Hotel Doral. The hotel is ten minutes away from the airport and always has some of the lowest rates in the area. I also love getting upgraded as an SPG elite to their full suites featuring a separate bedroom, living area, and full kitchen. However, something unexpected happened. During my stay, I came face to face with one of Starwood Hotels’ robot butlers.
Beginning in 2014, Starwood Hotels started to gradually roll out robot butlers at select Aloft Hotels. The first SPG property to receive one of these bots was the Aloft Hotel Cupertino in the Bay Area, California. Today, a handful of Aloft Hotels and Element Hotels across the United States feature their own robot butlers.
These robot butlers go by the name Botlr at Starwood Hotels. Botlrs, officially known as Relay robots manufactured by Savioke, based in San Jose, CA. Relay bots are designed, engineered, and manufactured by Savioke, a company dedicated to the future of robots and automation. Relay’s been around for the last four(ish) years and has completed over 125,000 deliveries according to Savioke. Savioke’s Relay costs roughly $2,000 per month. Multiple big-name hotel brands and chains are adopting Relay, the robot butler.
My Experience with Botlr
I’ve stayed at dozens of Aloft Hotels and Element Hotels. I’ve noticed a few times when I’ve stayed at Aloft Hotels that a cylindrical robot sat idle in the corner of the lobbies. I always thought that these bots were more of a publicity thing and rarely ran deliveries. That’s actually not the case. The reason I just now experienced a robot butler delivery is due in part to the complexity of these robots.
These robots rely on a map of the hotel, stored digitally within the bot, and can only use one elevator. If that elevator is down or in limited service, the robot cannot make deliveries. Additionally, hotel staff needs to know how to get the bots to guests.
Finally, I came across a hotel with a working Botlr. However, I didn’t know the hotel had one of these robot butlers until I looked out the peephole of my hotel room around 6:45 in the morning.
As I was getting ready for my flight home, I realized I was completely out of toothpaste. Most hotels, at this point, provide guests with a selection of complimentary toiletries, so I called down to the front desk. The front desk agent was glad to send some toothpaste my way. He said that the toothpaste would be up in a few minutes. I went to my wallet and grabbed a few ones for the bellhop’s tip.
After two or so minutes, I decided to look out the peephole and see if the bellhop was on their way. To my surprise, I saw a cylindrical robot gleaming with blue lights. I couldn’t believe it. The front desk had sent a robot to deliver my toothpaste.
I opened the door and there it was, Botlr the robot butler in all its glory. A few seconds after I opened the door a lid popped up to reveal some Colgate toothpaste and a toothbrush. After snapping some pictures, the Botlr presented me with a few on-screen questions. Within a minute, Botlr was on its way back home.
See Botlr In Action
I was so enamored with Botlr that I got ready and made my way down to the lobby to request another delivery. I explained to the two front desk agents that I wanted to get a full video of the robot butler in action for my blog. They were glad to send Botlr back up. They asked what I’d want to be sent up and I told them a bottle of water was fine.
I made my way back up to my room and within a few minutes, Botlr was making its way out of the elevator. Here’s what a typical Botlr robot butler delivery looks like.
Pretty neat, right? Well, I’m in love with that little robot. I’ve always been fascinated by robots and technology like this. I can’t wait to stay at another SPG Hotel with a Botlr.
Concerns About a Robot Butler?
I posted a video of the first delivery on Twitter. To my surprise, people took a liking to the robot. Multiple users on Twitter posed a variety of questions. Here are a few of the more frequently asked questions.
Q: But what about the person that lost their job for a hotel to have a robot?
A: So far, only Aloft Hotels and Element Hotels feature these Botlrs. Neither Aloft Hotels nor Element Hotels really had a dedicated runner or bellhop. As entry-level to mid-scale hotels, both brands would use their front desk staff to send room service or amenities up to guests. At the moment, Botlr hasn’t resulted in any lost jobs, from what I can tell. However, that’s not to say that robots won’t lead to lost jobs in the future.
Q: Do you tip a robot?
A: No. I guess you could put some cash in the compartment, however, there’s no guarantee that the front desk agent who fulfilled the delivery will get your tip.
Q: Couldn’t someone take or harm Botlr?
A: Of course someone could do damage to Botlr but why? Second, I don’t think you can take Botlr. It’s quite heavy and doesn’t look like something you could carry without some help.
Q: How does it call the elevator/lift?
A: It’s connected wirelessly to the elevators and will call the elevator when it reaches the doors.
Q: How do you know the robot is outside your room?
A: Botlr automatically calls your room to let you know its outside. Once you open your hotel room door, Botlr opens its compartment and you can take your delivery.
Not only did I have a fantastic stay at the Element Hotel Doral, I finally got to see Starwood Hotels’ robot butler in action. To my surprise, the delivery went flawlessly and required no attention from its human masters. Within in minutes, Botlr was at more door with my deliveries. Innovative, fun, and actually practical, I think Botlr has a future in the hospitality industry.
What do you think about Relay, aka Botlr, the robot butler? Does it have a future in the hospitality industry?