He is small, has adorable eyes and a high voice, and charms everyone: Mario, the first humanoid hotel robot, is well on the way to becoming the number one brand ambassador of the company he represents and from which he derives his name (’Marriott’ Hotels). “I am 57 centimetres tall, weigh six kilos, and speak 19 languages“, says this mobile figure made of plastic. “I can dance, sing and if you want I can call the cat.“ Immediately, and mysteriously, he unfolds to his full height and begins to gyrate his hips to a Latin rhythm.
But what is this tablet interface-controlled figure really capable of? “Mario has three jobs with us: he welcomes guests at the reception desk, in any one of 19 languages – and hands them their key card. At conferences and events he can read aloud from Powerpoint slides and explain the buffet menu. And, not least, he can entertain“, says Roger Langhout, general manager of the Ghent Marriott Hotel. Mario can bring a smile to anybody’s face, cements brand awareness and ensures guests will never forget the experience.
His secret is two arms, two legs and a head. He is like a human being but recognisable as a robot. “A robot looking like a robot is something that westerners like“, says Fabrice Goffin, Co-CEO, QBMT / Zora Robotics. “Asians prefer artificial intelligence to look more like themselves.“ Together with a 34-man team he designed the software for Mario and his colleagues. Whereas the original inventors look to R2D2 or C3PO for their vision of a robot, the ’class of Mario’ is already working in various hotels, in children’s hospitals and nursing homes, as an entertainer, gymnast, friend, and as someone who can read aloud or help calm anxieties.
“Mario’s size makes him ideal as a friend“, says Goffin. His price would preclude that for the moment. He costs 15,000 euros, or 250 euros in monthly instalments. In Langhout’s view the price is worth it. “Not only are we enjoying the attention, we find different tasks for him every day.“