Alibaba A.I. Labs is launching service robots for the hospitality sector starting in October. The autonomous robots will perform some of the functions of hotel staff and guests will be able to control the bots through voice commands, according to Alibaba.

The news was made at The Computing Conference 2018 in Hangzhou, China, the site of Alibaba’s headquarters.

Alibaba A.I. Labs is the department leading consumer AI product development at Alibaba.

In a statement announcing the launch the company said hotels have until now depended entirely on human labor. But the Labs’ service robot – from delivering meals to taking laundry to guests – demonstrates what guests can expect at hotels in the future. Guests talk to the robot via voice command, touch and hand gesture, and its responses are driven by AliGenie, the software that powers Alibaba A.I. Labs’ smart speaker, Tmall Genie.

“We are excited by this tremendous development that is helping us bridge the gap between guest needs and the response time that they expect. Alibaba A.I. Labs’ robot is the next step in the evolution towards smart hotels. In addition, it is solving pain points in the hotel sector, such as enhancing service efficiency, with our leading AI technologies,” says Lijuan Chen, General Manager of Alibaba A.I. Labs.

“The robot will be the ultimate assistant for hotel guests who want everything quickly and conveniently at their fingertips.”

The technology that drives the Labs’ service robot is state-of-the-art, combining aluminum casing with multi-sensor data functionality and parallel computing for lightning quick responses. It also includes a semantic map, autonomous navigation system to identify obstacles, communication systems to control elevators, and identity verification via facial-recognition technology.

The robot’s height is less than one meter, while its walking speed reaches one meter per second. After a trial at a hotel, Alibaba A.I. Labs will assess its suitability for other areas, including hospitals, restaurants and office services.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the global market for service robots are on the rise. The market is expected to grow from 20 per cent to 25 per cent from 2018 to 2020, while the sales forecast 2018-2020 indicates a cumulative volume of around 27 billion U.S. dollars for the professional service segment.

Following the unveiling of the robot, Alibaba A.I. Labs also announced Tmall Genie Auto, the latest initiative in smart mobility and expanding the Tmall Genie ecosystem.

Tmall Genie is the most popular smart speaker in China, with over 5 million units sold since its launch in 2017. It ranks number three in total shipments in the global smart-speaker market.

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