In Depth

Japanese robot hotel pulls plug on droid staff

More than half of the automated workforce has been fired following complaints

A Japanese hotel run by robots has “fired” more than half of its 243 droid staff after guests said they were inefficient and irritating. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, the robots at Nagasaki-based hotel Henn na - a name that translates as “strange” or “weird” - frequently “created work rather than reduced it” and failed to do their jobs properly. 

One guest told the US-based newspaper that he had been “roused every few hours” during his stay because a virtual assistant robot found in each room repeatedly asked: “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Can you repeat your request?”

It turned out that the robot, called Churi, was interpreting the guest’s snoring as voice commands. 

Other customers complained that the Churi “dolls” would not stop talking and were difficult to understand, while some simply found them annoying, reports tech news site Gizmodo

The virtual assistants were scrapped after the hotel’s management realised they were unable to answer basic questions or follow simple commands. Humanoid concierge robots also got the axe for the same reason.

Meanwhile, human staff “ended up working overtime to repair robots that stopped working”, says the Daily Mirror.

Henn na opened in 2015 and was certified by Guinness World Records the following year as the first hotel to be staffed by robots. 

The travel company that owns it has since opened seven similar hotels across Japan, all with robots on the staff. 

The chain’s president, Hideo Sawada, says he hasn’t given up on his dream of having hotels run by droids, but admits: “When you actually use robots you realise there are places where they aren’t needed - or just annoy people.”

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