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July 2015

At Japan's robot hotel, a dinosaur greets you at reception and a machine provides room service.

The Henn na – or Weird Hotel – is now open for business. Robots check you in and robots deliver your luggage to your room.

Hideo Sawada, who runs the hotel as part of an amusement park, says it's not a gimmick but a serious use of technology to achieve efficiency. The Henn na Hotel was shown to reporters, complete with robot demonstrations before opening last week.

“I wanted to highlight innovation,” Sawada said. “I also wanted to do something about hotel prices going up.”


The vicious-looking dinosaur receptionist speaks english. Aa female humanoid with blinking lashes speaks Japanese. “If you want to check in, push one,” says the dinosaur. The visitor must punch a button on the desk and type in information on a touch panel screen.


From the front desk to the porter that is an automated trolley taking luggage to the room, this hotel in south-western Japan, aptly called Weird Hotel, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labour costs.


The concierge is a doll-like hairless robot with voice recognition that prattles breakfast and event information. It cannot call a cab or do other errands.


Another feature is facial recognition technology, so instead of the standard electronic keys, a digital image of the guest’s face is registered during check-in. The reason? Robots aren’t good at finding keys if people happen to lose them.


A giant robotic arm, usually seen in manufacturing, sits in glass quarters in the lobby. It lifts one of the boxes stacked into the wall and puts it through a space in the glass, where a guest can place an item in it, to use as a locker. The arm will put the box back into the wall until the guest wants it again. The system is called “robot cloak room”.


Staying at Henn na Hotel starts at $80 us (9,000 yen), a bargain for Japan, where a stay in one of the nicer hotels can easily cost twice or three times that much.

Japan is a world leader in robotics technology, and the government is trumpeting robotics as a pillar of its growth strategy. Robots have long been used in manufacturing but interest is also high in exploring the potential of robots in human interaction, including helping care for the elderly.

Robotics is also key in decommissioning the three reactors in Fukushima, northern Japan, which went into meltdowns in 2011, in the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl.


One area on which Henn na Hotel still relies on humans is security. It is dotted with security cameras, and real people watch everything through a monitor to ensure guests are safe and no one steals an expensive robot.

“And they still can’t make beds,” said Sawada, who has also engineered the rise of a popular affordable Japanese travel agency. He has big ambitions for his robot hotel concept and wants to open another soon in Japan and, later, abroad. He is also keen MAKE HIS ROBOTS MULTI-LINGUAL.

A block-shaped robot that was scuttling around in the lobby had been brought in to do room service, delivering beverages and simple snacks. But it wasn’t ready to do that yet. Outside, Sawada demonstrated a drone that flew in to deliver a few small jars filled with snacks. He wanted to eventually have drones perform in shows for guests.

In the rooms, a lamp-size robot in the shape of a fat pink tulip called Tuly answers simple questions such as, “What time is it?” and “What is the weather tomorrow?” You can also tell it to turn the room lights on or off. There are no switches on the walls.

Sawada is keeping the hotel half-filled for the first few weeks to make sure nothing goes wrong.

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