SINGAPORE (Apr 9): M Social Singapore, the colourful and eclectic hotel along Robertson Quay, has a new staff member. AURA is an autonomous robot that brings bottles of water and towels to guests in their rooms, freeing its human colleagues for other roles. After about a year in operation, reviews have been complimentary on the whole, though some people have noted a degree of awkwardness in AURA’s movements, not unlike a robotic vacuum cleaner that gets momentarily confused around furniture.

AURA may soon become a more common sight. It has just been deployed at Studio M, a hotel owned by locally listed CDL Hospitality Trusts. M Social’s owner, London-listed Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, is the sponsor of CDLHT. The managers of CDLHT plan to deploy AURA at the trusts’ other hotels — Grand Copthorne Waterfront, M Hotel and Orchard Hotel — later this year. The managers of CDLHT estimate the robots can potentially save 3,000 to 4,000 man-hours annually, which works out to about 1.5 persons’ worth of working hours, or even more, given they can work round-the-clock.

The hospitality business is notoriously cyclical and labour-intensive. With the entry of sharing economy players such as Airbnb, which is now targeting business travellers and introducing features meant to entice human resource and travel managers, the pressure on hoteliers is on. In a bid to deal with one of the biggest challenges the industry faces — the lack of manpower — robots have been deployed in both back-office and customer-facing functions.

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