Robotel: Japan hotel staffed by robot dinosaurs

A robot dinosaur wearing a bellboy hats welcomes guests from the front desk at the Henn-na Hotel in Urayasu, suburban Tokyo on August 31, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 03 September 2018
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Robotel: Japan hotel staffed by robot dinosaurs

URAYASU, Japan: The reception at the Henn na Hotel east of Tokyo is eerily quiet until customers approach the robot dinosaurs manning the front desk. Their sensors detect the motion and they bellow “Welcome.”
It might be about the weirdest check-in experience possible, but that’s exactly the point at the Henn na (whose name means ‘weird’) chain, which bills itself as offering the world’s first hotels staffed by robots.
The front desk staff are a pair of giant dinosaurs that look like cast members of the Jurassic Park movies, except for the tiny bellboy hats perched on their heads.
The robo-dinos process check-ins through a tablet system that also allows customers to choose which language — Japanese, English, Chinese or Korean — they want to use to communicate with the multilingual robots.
The effect is bizarre, with the large dinosaurs gesticulating with their long arms and issuing tinny set phrases. Yukio Nagai, manager at the Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay, admits some customers find it slightly unnerving.
“We haven’t quite figured out when exactly the guests want to be served by people, and when it’s okay to be served by robots,” he told AFP.
But for other guests the novelty is the charm: each room is staffed with mini-robots that look a bit like spherical Star Wars droid BB-8, and help guests with everything from changing channels to playing music.
Even the fish swimming in the lobby run on batteries, with electric lights in their articulated bodies flickering on and off as they work their way around giant tanks.
“The dinosaurs looked intriguing, and I thought my son would love it,” said Chigusa Hosoi, who was at the hotel with her three-year-old.
“My son is really happy. There’s an egg-shaped robot inside the room. He was playing with it a lot.”
The first Henn na Hotel opened in Nagasaki in 2015, and was certified the following year by Guinness World Records as the world’s first hotel with robots on its staff.
The travel agency group that operates the chain now runs eight hotels across the country, all with robots on the staff, some of them dinosaurs, but others taking a more humanoid shape.
Some humans are also on call to intervene in case of glitches, which customer reviews online suggest are a not infrequent problem at check-in.
But Nagai said relying on robots for everything from front desk duty to cleaning had proved an efficient choice in a country with a shrinking labor market.
“It’s becoming difficult to secure enough labor at hotels. To solve that problem, we have robots serving guests.”


China’s Xiaomi swings to net profit in Q3 on robust sales in India, Europe

Updated 14 min 7 sec ago
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China’s Xiaomi swings to net profit in Q3 on robust sales in India, Europe

  • Profit for the three months through September reached $357.23 million
  • The firm has been adding new brands to its smartphone portfolio to target niche consumers

HONG KONG: Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc. said on Monday it swung to a net profit in the third quarter, beating analyst estimates, driven by robust sales in India and Europe.
Profit for the three months through September reached 2.48 billion yuan ($357.23 million), versus an 11 billion yuan loss in the same period a year earlier. That compared with a 1.92 billion yuan average of five analyst estimates compiled by Refinitiv Eikon.
Xiaomi also said operating profit sank 38.4 percent to 3.59 billion yuan in the third quarter. Revenue rose 49.1 percent to 50.85 billion yuan.
The mixed results come amid a slowdown in smartphone purchases both in China, where Xiaomi once was the top-selling handset brand, and overseas.
Nevertheless Xiaomi, along with fellow low-cost handset makers Oppo and Vivo, accounted for around a quarter of the global smartphone market in the first half of 2018, showed data from researcher IDC.
Xiaomi’s fastest-growing markets are India, where it has had success with its budget Redmi phone series, and Europe, where it entered in 2017 with launches in Russia and Spain. Earlier this month it released its flagship Mi 8 Pro device in Britain.
But to weather the global market slowdown, analysts said Xiaomi needs to expand to new markets and also sell more higher-priced devices with wider profit margins.
The firm has been adding new brands to its smartphone portfolio to target niche consumers. Concurrent with today’s earnings, it announced a partnership with Meitu Inc, a maker of a photo app popular with young women, to sell phones under its brand. Earlier this year it launched Black Shark, a phone targeted at gamers, and Poco, a value-for-money device aimed at India.
Mo Jia, who tracks China’s smartphone makers at research firm Canalys, said attempts to sell more expensive devices requires changing its brand perception.
“It’s still very hard for Xiaomi to change its perception of being a low-end device manufacturer as the majority of its smartphone shipments are the Redmi series.”
Xiaomi also aims to transform itself from a smartphone firm into a software company. As the firm prepared for its IPO, founder Lei Jun touted Internet services — namely advertisements placed on the firm’s in-house apps — as its future and key differentiator from other handset brands.
In the third quarter, Xiaomi’s smartphone division grew revenue by 36.1 percent while its Internet service division grew 85.5 percent. But phones made up 64.6 percent of total sales, while Internet services made up 9.3 percent.
The results are the second set released by Xiaomi since the smartphone maker raised $4.72 billion in an initial public offering (IPO) in June, valuing the firm at about $54 billion — around half of some earlier industry estimates of $100 billion.
Its shares have fallen roughly 20 percent since they started trading in July amid a broader Chinese stock market sell-off and concern about a slowdown in China’s tech industry.