In Sil­i­con Val­ley ho­tels, an au­to­mated helper de­liv­ers items to guests,


Re­lay is waist high. It has mood light­ing, touch screens and chirps as itwheels along ho­tel hall­ways, de­liv­er­ing Chee­tos, Kraft Mac and Cheese, and hair­spray to guests.

There are only a hand­ful of Re­lays de­ployed in sev­eral Sil­i­con Val­ley ho­tels right now. But In­tel Corp., which in­vested in the ro­bot’s maker, Savioke Inc., thinks the fu­ture will be full of such helpers.

Un­der­neath Re­lay’s curvy ex­te­rior is ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence soft­ware that al­lows it to use cam­eras and other sen­sors to in­de­pen­dently nav­i­gate through the ho­tel with­out run­ning any­one over. Be­ing aware of what’s go­ing on around them is cru­cial if ro­bots are go­ing to tran­si­tion from cages on fac­tory floors to ho­tels, homes and other places where they could eas­ily hurt hu­mans.

“Tech­nol­ogy’s got­ten to a point where ro­bots can make sense of the world in real time,” said Steve Cousins, Savioke’s founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “If the ro­bot can see the world, process what it’s see­ing, and make a de­ci­sion in real time, then it can be around us.”

The mar­kets that have pro­vided In­tel with the bulk of its sales — per­sonal com­put­ers and smart­phones — are slow­ing. Ro­bot­ics is one of a num­ber of fields that the com­pany is hop­ing will pick up the slack. Yet ro­bots alone can’t make up for PC mar­ket con­trac­tion and they aren’t even close to match­ing the 1.2 bil­lion an­nual ship­ments of the smart­phone sec­tor.

“We are a cou­ple of decades away from that,” said Gart­ner ro­bot an­a­lyst Ger­ald Van Hoy. He es­ti­mates the cur­rent mar­ket for ro­bots is in the tens of mil­lions of units per year and sig­nif­i­cant growth won’t start un­til around 2020.

Savioke isn’t chas­ing mass vol­ume sales. It leases the ro­bots to ho­tels and man­ages them re­motely. That pro­vides it with re­cur­ring in­come and in­cen­tivizes it to build prod­ucts that are re­li­able and will last, Cousins said. It also re­moves the bur­den of main­te­nance and man­age­ment from the ho­tel.

“The team at Savioke has done an ex­em­plary job grow­ing the mar­ket for ser­vice ro­bot­ics,” said Wen­dell Brooks, pres­i­dent of In­tel’s in­vest­ment arm. “In­tel Cap­i­tal sees sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­nity in this im­por­tant new mar­ket.”

At the Crowne Plaza San Jose, their ver­sion of Re­lay, which they’ve named Dash, started mak­ing de­liv­er­ies last year. Front-desk work­ers take or­ders from guests, then put the re­quested item into a plas­tic con­tainer un­der a lid on the top of the ro­bot. They punch a room num­ber into the touch­screen and go back to what­ever they were do­ing.

When guests re­ceive an au­to­mated call to let them know their de­liv­ery has ar­rived, they open the door to find Dash wait­ing. Giv­ing the ser­vice a five-star rat­ing on Dash’s touch­screen trig­gers a ro­bot happy dance.

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