A big hit everywhere: the room service of the future is robotic
Digitalisation and industry 4.0 | innovation | trends of technology | Urbanization | A new technology from thyssenkrupp now allows robots and elevators in the US to communicate with each other in the cloud, making it possible, among other fields of application, to serve hotel guests fully autonomously.
Until now, robots could not operate autonomously in buildings – at the elevator door, at the latest, they were unable to travel to other floors without human assistance. This restricted their range of action. The new interface from thyssenkrupp now enables robots to use the elevator like a normal passenger – and thus move around buildings completely independently.
Enormous potential for hotels: delivery robots desperately needed!
The new technology increases the range of robot applications. Javier Sesma is General Manager of thyssenkrupp’s Elevator Innovation Center in Gijón, Spain. He explains that the launch in the USA is related to local demand: “The first request for such a technology came from US hotel chains. More and more guests there are ordering food online from the delivery service, or parcels, for example. Hotels are finding it increasingly difficult to bring this increased volume to their rooms with the classic concierge service and at the same time manage it efficiently.”
The new elevator interface solves this problem: The robots can communicate directly with the elevator in the cloud and, according to Javier Sesma, “move around the hotel just like a person. When they arrive at their destination, a flap in the robot’s head opens and the delivery can be easily removed.”
The possible applications are not only available for hotels – both flexible and round-the-clock availability of service robots are able to considerably improve the in-house logistics of many other facilities, too. The elevator interfaces can be programmed in such a way that they are closely coordinated with the cleaning staff or the (automated) security. “At the moment, two cases are clearly of great interest to us: hospitals and hotels,” says Sesma. Because hospitals are also increasingly reliant on mobile robots. For example, in the delivery of medicines and blood, on nursing wards, in waiting rooms, and in treatment rooms. Almost 3,000 service robots were already in use in the medical field in 2017 – 73 percent more than in 2016.
Everything in one cloud: in-house technology and simple installation
How does it work? First of all, the entire communication of the elevator is wireless, made possible by thyssenkrupp’s TAC control. The interface, which is only compatible with the in-house software and hardware, can be installed within one day. “Like we do with a new human employee, we first train the robot to learn his way around the whole building. It creates a scanned digital map. Like a human, the robot has memorized and stored the map of the entire building, which it can access to move around,” Javier Sesma explains.
The interface allows the robots exactly the same freedom of movement that residents, guests, and patients have in the buildings. The elevator is called via Wi-Fi or 4G LTE within the cloud, the robot determines the destination floor, and the lift starts moving. With the help of artificial vision and image processing technology, the robot can detect and determine whether there are already too many people in the elevator and whether it has to wait. The technology can also be retrofitted to existing elevators to enable communication with the robot. With more than 40 billion connected devices to the cloud in 2025 and 5G facilitating this connectivity, there is no doubt that autonomous delivery robots will benefit from this technology.
However, Kevin Lavallee, CEO of thyssenkrupp Elevator North America, sees all this as only the first step toward the big picture: “thyssenkrupp Elevator is using innovative technologies and solutions to shape the smart cities of the future, and with the appropriate solutions offers safe and efficient mobility for everyone – including robots.”
So far, only in use in the US, soon also in Europe
After the successful launch in the US, the robots will soon be going overseas as well. While Javier Sesma cannot say exactly when the starting signal will be given in Europe, he envisions an increasing demand for the product in the European market. “In 2050, more than 30 percent of the European population will be older than 60 and have greater life expectancy. We expect this development to offer interesting opportunities in the health and tourism sectors,” according to Javier Sesma. “As an example, Spain is one of the leading economies for Tourism and Health very well valued by visitors. The user experience is key when visiting a country and is one of the main reasons to come back.”
Europe and the USA should not be the end of the story. New figures show that the market for robotics will triple in the next few years. This is where Javier Sesma sees the next steps: “In the long term, we believe that the technology will also be particularly interesting for multipurpose buildings with a height of 300 to 600 meters, as there is a coexistence of commercial, office, and residential use. In such a large building, robots can maximize the efficiency of the building services and provide a better experience for residents and users.”
Innovation Center Gijón also develops MAX maintenance solution for elevators
The team at the Innovation Center in Gijón is also deeply involved in the development of MAX – the preventive maintenance solution connected to the cloud already implemented in more than 120,000 elevators and escalators in the world. Another technology is AGILE, a real-time monitoring platform to manage the flow of people with artificial vision.
Javier Sesma is convinced: “The combination of robots with thyssenkrupp competencies in artificial vision and real-time monitoring will be key to the improvement of the customer experience in hotels, facilitating patient service in hospitals, and improving the seamless accessibility experience of people – and robots – at every step of the journey.”