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Hilton is piloting a robot concierge project at the Hilton McLean in Virginia. Hilton's hospitality machine will stay behind the concierge desk. Named “Connie” in a nod to Hilton founder Conrad Hilton, the miniature robot will greet guests and answer questions about the hotel, local attractions and recommend dining options.
Steve Kurtz, Questex Hospitality Group‘s chief digital officer, went to check out Connie in person yesterday to get a feel for Hilton's new technology. Fashionably decked out in St. Patrick's Day garb, Connie was display in a corner of the lobby, near the hotel bar. Unlike the promo video, Connie was obviously hooked up to a computer (under the table) which was connected to a monitor.
“Given the noisy Mclean atrium environment, you had to get very close to Connie in order for her to hear you and even then sometimes it didn't work,” Kurtz said. “The first few questions she couldn't understand or didn't have an answer to.”
Connie didn't understand Kurtz's question of “what time is check-out?” She thought for a minute and then said, “I don't have the answer to that. Please see the front desk for assistance.”
The funniest interaction came when Kurtz asked Connie where he could get some food. Connie clearly misunderstood and replied: “I would rather not talk about my relationships and prefer to talk about Hilton Hotels.”
After asking again, Connie responded with “please check the screen for the recommendations I’ve found.” The monitor had a variety of restaurants listed on a Google map.
“Who doesn't have a smartphone that can do the same thing though?” Kurtz wondered. “Kudos to Hilton for experimenting, but it looks like Connie isn't as polished as those IBM Watson commercials.”
Connie came about as part of a project between Hilton and IBM's Watson supercomputer. The robot is limited to vocal interaction (it's not checking any guests into rooms or interacting with the hotel back end), but it uses a combination of Watson's technology, such as Dialog, Speech to Text, Text to Speech and Natural Language Classifier to speak with guests.
Connie is designed to improve itself through interactions with guests. It does this by “remembering” frequent questions and fine-tuning recommendations over time.
“This project with Hilton and WayBlazer represents an important shift in human-machine interaction, enabled by the embodiment of Watson's cognitive computing,” Rob High, chief technology officer of Watson said in a statement. “Watson helps Connie understand and respond naturally to the needs and interests of Hilton's guests—which is an experience that's particularly powerful in a hospitality setting, where it can lead to deeper guest engagement.”
Jim Holthouser, EVP of global brands for Hilton Worldwide, told Fortune that Connie's inclusion in a Hilton property is not part of any large robotics initiative by the brand, but rather an example of the company experimenting with technology to see how it affects the guest experience.
“In the hotel business we're in a mature, competitive environment and innovation is key,” Holthouser said. “But it has to be purposeful innovation. We're not out to test things to be gimmicky and cute. That buys you nothing at the end of the day in market like this.”