Meet Techi, the new housekeeping wizard

This Techi robot with eyes, which can deliver room-service orders on its own, will join the team at Park Avenue Rochester Hotel in two weeks. The hotel's other two Techi robots, which started work last month, can together perform the job of three ful
This Techi robot with eyes, which can deliver room-service orders on its own, will join the team at Park Avenue Rochester Hotel in two weeks. The hotel's other two Techi robots, which started work last month, can together perform the job of three full-time workers in a year. All three use driverless technology and can be controlled via a tablet.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH
A robot housekeeper.
A robot housekeeper.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

2 robots step in to ease manpower crunch at Park Avenue Rochester Hotel, and one more is on the way

Staff at the Park Avenue Rochester Hotel were introduced to two new colleagues last month - both made of metal and plastic and named Techi.

The 1.38m-tall robots deliver trolleys of duvets, pillow cases and towels at the 311-room hotel in Buona Vista - the first here to turn to robotics to cope with the labour shortage.

They navigate around the hotel, ride lifts on their own and have sensors that enable them to avoid obstacles such as walls and people.

Each robot uses driverless technology and can be controlled via a tablet to deliver items like toilet paper or extra pillows to guests. They can also be pre-programmed to perform routine tasks such as the daily delivery of clean linen to different floors.

Besides alleviating the labour shortage, having the robots do most of the manual work means that housekeeping staff have more time and energy to do other tasks, such as interacting with guests and inspecting rooms to ensure they are clean and well stocked, said the hotel's general manager Ryan Sun.

The hotel has only 23 of the 29 room attendants it needs. With the two robot housekeepers - which together can perform the job of three full-time employees in a year - the shortage is reduced to three workers.

  • Out to deliver trolley of linen

  • A robot housekeeper helps to deliver a trolley of linen from the third-floor housekeeping room right up to the 23rd floor of the hotel. Here's how it does it.

    1 Techi is pre-programmed to perform the task. It moves off from its charging bay and picks up a trolley of linen. The location of the trolley, placed there by housekeeping staff, is marked out by a yellow box on the ground.

    2 Carrying the trolley, Techi takes the lift to the respective floor. It "communicates" with the lift using Wi-Fi. Sensors help the robot avoid obstacles.

    3 Upon reaching the floor, Techi deposits the trolley at a designated spot outside the lift.

    4 Techi re-enters the lift and returns to the housekeeping area to collect the next trolley of linen, and the cycle is repeated.

For linen attendant Tok Geok Lan, 47, managing the inventory is now less strenuous. But she had to pick up a new skill - learning how to use the tablet to control the robots.

" The first time I used the tablet, I was confused," said Madam Tok, who joined the hotel eight months ago. "But I attended training for one week on how to use it and, now, I think it's quite cool."

The job scope may have changed, but staff salaries remain the same.

The pair of robots were partially funded by the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) Business Improvement Fund. It is believed they each cost around $100,000 and were developed by an American company.

Mr Sun believes the Techi robots have the potential to perform other tasks, like helping guests who use wheelchairs to get around, delivering luggage or doing night patrols.

In two weeks, guests may meet a third new member of the team: another Techi that can deliver room- service orders on its own. This robot, which has eyes, giving it a friendlier appearance, is supported by funding from Spring Singapore.

The hotel may be the first to use robots here, but the practice has taken off overseas. In south-west Japan, one hotel has been staffed almost entirely by robots since July last year. And at Yotel hotel in New York City, a floor-to-ceiling robot arm called Yobot picks up luggage and stores it in lockers for guests.

Park Avenue Rochester's use of Techi may be a game changer here.

Ms Ong Huey Hong, STB's director of hotels and sector manpower, said it is in talks with other hotels that are interested in robotic solutions.

At a tourism sector conference in April, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran highlighted the robotics project at Park Avenue Rochester, calling it "an excellent example of STB partnering the industry to seek out innovative solutions and test-bed applications".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Meet Techi, the new housekeeping wizard'. Print Edition | Subscribe