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Cahn: Vacationing with Robots? Maybe.

Posted: February 6, 2015 11:18 a.m.
Updated: February 9, 2015 1:00 a.m.

“The robot revolution may be gentler than we thought,” began an article on CNN.com about a new hotel in Japan’s Nagasaki prefect.

The new hotel, opening July 17, will be called Henn-na Hotel, which translates in English to Strange Hotel. And it will be, but I think I would like it.

It will be entirely staffed by robots.

Still under construction, July 17 will see the opening of the first phase, two-story, 72-room section. According to CNN, the hotel will operate “under the motto ‘A commitment for evolution,’ the hotel will feature three ‘actroids’ (robots with strong human likeness) that will act as receptionists.

“The hotel will also employ four service and porter robots, and others engaged in menial tasks such as cleaning.”

Another 72 rooms will be ready sometime next year.

Hideo Sawada, the president of the hotel’s parent company (a theme park operator, by the way), says he hopes robots will eventually take care of 90 percent of the property. That indicates the robots to go online July 17 aren’t the only employees at Henn-na. However, there’s no mention of human workers in the CNN piece.

Instead, it touts guestroom doors being opened by facial recognition, tablets to order items not already in the apparently austere rooms and radiation panels -- instead of air conditioning -- to adjust room temperature.

Another interesting feature is bidding on rooms rather than having a set rate to pay.

“Room rates will vary depending on demand,” CNN.com wrote. “Instead of being presented with a fixed price, guests will bid for rooms during peak season. The highest bidders will secure rooms, though there will be a price cap on bidding.

“The hotel says room fees at opening will be from JPY7,000 ($60) for a single room to JPY18,000 ($153), the highest possible price after bidding, for a triple room.

“Superior and deluxe rooms will cost more.”

And Sadawa’s company hopes to build 1,000 more hotels like this around the world.

As a fan of all things sci-fi, I’m certainly intrigued, but I prefer to see systems where artificial intelligence (including in the form of robots) works with humans instead of replacing them entirely.

I’m hoping someone is actually on hand if something goes wrong, like being given access to a room with other guests already inside or having those “radiation panels” get a little too hot.

Still, it would be kind of neat to have little service robots bringing me room service. If that’s even offered; the hotel’s website is in, of course, Japanese, a language I neither read nor speak. To keep the prices low, Henn-na might not offer food. How much you want to bet there’s a restaurant nearby also owned by the theme park company, though?

Facial recognition to open doors? Cool. Do they swish open like the ones on Star Trek’s Enterprise?

I can actually see things going further. As driverless cars become accepted, I envision curb to curb service from the local airport or high speed train to the hotel and back, not to mention to area travel spots.

In a companion article, CNN.com pointed out the Yen is being devalued making expensive Japan a little more affordable. That’s great, but I’m thinking just getting to Japan might be a bit much. I visited the country while living on Saipan back in the early 1980s. Beautiful country and I would like to go back.

There might be a closer spot to experience a merge of technology and vacationing: Cupertino, Calif. There, Aloft Hotels is trying out a “Botler” to bring room guests slippers, newspapers (yay!), water and toothpaste. If I want to take to the high seas, the Royal Caribbean cruise line’s already installed robot bartenders.

Oh, wait, I don’t drink.

I’ve been thinking about getting the Apple Watch when it comes out. That’s not a non-sequitur. CNN.com says Starwood Hotels will offer an Apple Watch app that, instead of Henn-na’s facial recognition, act as a key card.

Well, guess what? Starwood owns several hotels in the one American city I want to visit most among those I’ve never visited before: New Orleans.

Among Starwood’s hotels -- an Aloft, home of those “Botlers” they’re trying out in California. It opens in just a few weeks on March 5. Hmm, can anyone say 50th birthday present? (Terrible, ain’t I?)

Let me switch gears here for a moment to focus on New Orleans. There are several reasons I want to visit the Big Easy: jazz, food, Lake Pontchartrain, the French Quarter, nearly every weekend festivals, its history, beauty and its incredible resilience following Hurricane Katrina.

Oh, and NCIS: New Orleans, partially filmed on location. I’m a fan of the show, so if I could somehow be around during scenes filmed there, that would be cool.

New Orleans is also trying to become a new tech hub, a kind of deep South Silicon Valley. Forbes magazine recently highlighted GE’s decision to consolidate its tech jobs in the Crescent City.

So, perhaps, someday soon, New Orleans will be known as much for its technology as its history, food and jazz.

Maybe that will be the place to visit when you want to accept room service from a “Botler” while listening to Louis Armstrong.

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