These cute robots could deliver your next coffee to you
Trundling around the hallways of Hong Kong's Cyberport innovation hub, the little Rice Robot is on a mission.To get more news about Robots on Demand, you can visit glprobotics.com official website.
The stocky white cuboid resembles Star Wars' R2D2 robot in its build, but has the wide-eyed expression of Pixar's WALL-E. It's delivering drinks to patrons of the HFT Life cafe in a compartment in its "head" which is unlocked by the customer using a PIN code sent to their phone.
While Rice's operations at the cafe are limited to distributing drinks, the compact robot is already providing a range of services at venues in Hong Kong and Japan. Rice is deployed as a bellhop at Hong Kong's Dorsett Wanchai hotel, providing room service to guests. In Tokyo, it delivers snacks to employees at SoftBank Group's headquarters from the building's 7-11 convenience store. Earlier this year, Rice even made its TV debut on Cantonese drama series Communion, delivering coffee to a cast member.
Rice is part of a new generation of smart robots, capable of navigating complex and busy environments, including elevators. Equipped with light sensors, depth cameras and ultrasound sensors to avoid obstacles, Rice can maneuver freely around multi-story hotels and shopping centers, says Viktor Lee, founder and CEO of Rice Robotics.
Describing Rice as "your friendly neighbourhood robot," Lee hopes it can help the hospitality sector combat labor shortages as the population ages, while appealing to the post-pandemic demand for heightened hygiene protocols.
"Even after COVID, people are paying a lot of attention to contact," says Lee. He believes "this type of delivery robot will see steady growth in next five and 10 years."With a background in logistics, Lee founded Rice Robotics in 2019 to solve the challenge of "last-mile delivery."
Supported by the Cyberport Incubation Programme, Lee and his team developed Rice, the first of its three robots. Designed for delivering goods, it can be used in healthcare, retail, logistics and hospitality.
The pandemic created new demand for service robots, with the market growing 12% in 2020 according to the International Federation of Robotics. This opened up a new role for Rice: quarantine hotel butler. In Hong Kong, strict regulations have seen inbound travelers quarantined for up to three weeks, and hotels have had to come up with new ways to minimize human contact and prevent cross-contamination.
The Dorsett Wanchai hotel started using Rice robots in June 2021. "It's a great way to serve our guests and to maintain our service standards while adhering to social distancing and anti-pandemic measures," says general manager Anita Chan, adding that feedback from guests has been positive: "With its cute appearance, Rice Robot is especially loved by the kids."
Lee says that during the pandemic, clients began asking about cleaning robots. His team responded by developing a second robot, called Jasmine, in just eight weeks. Replacing Rice's delivery compartment with a tank of sanitizing solution, Jasmine has two spray nozzles on her head to disperse disinfectant.
Lee created a new personality for Jasmine — which has already been deployed in malls, conference centers and airports — by giving her cartoon eyebrows that furrow in a serious expression. "She has to go out and sanitize the whole place, and she doesn't want anyone to get in her way," says Lee.
The team's third product, Portal, is a taller robot with a touch screen, two-way intercom and streaming cameras for patrolling public areas. As well as making deliveries, Portal can guide visitors in venues such as shopping malls, conference centers and hospitals.