AI fail: Japan's Henn-na Hotel dumps 'annoying' robot staff, hires humans

Japan's cutting-edge Henn-na Hotel chain - staffed largely by robots - is mothballing many of its androids because they break down frequently, are expensive to maintain and annoy the guests.

The robots that act as front-desk staff, cleaners, porters and in-room assistants are being replaced by more traditional human staff, a company official confirmed, although the chain is pushing ahead with plans to develop a new generation of robot employees and plans to open new properties across Japan.

"We are trying to evolve and improve every day, but we have been working with state-of-the-art equipment," said Tatsuya Fukuda, who oversees development of the chain for domestic travel giant HIS.

The hotel was reintroducing human staff in place of its robot employees to ensure that standards of service were maintained, he told the South China Morning Post.

The hotel decided to withdraw the dinosaur and humanoid robots that staffed front desks at its properties because they were unable to respond to queries from guests about local attractions or access to airports. Humans were also on stand-by every time a guest's passport needed to be registered.

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Robot luggage carriers were not able to reach all of the rooms in some hotels and broke down when they got wet, while the in-room assistant "Churi" was limited in what it could do and struggled to understand accents.

One guest told The Wall Street Journal that he kept being woken in the night by Churi because it believed his snoring was a command and kept asking him to repeat his request.

HIS President Hideo Sawada said the company would persevere with the concept - which attracted global attention when the first hotel opened in the southern city of Sasebo in 2015.

"When you actually use robots, you realise that there are places where they are not needed - or just annoy people," Sawada said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.