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I Went to the Future, in a Hotel Where My Butler to Bartender - Were Robots

By: Anurag Verma


Last Updated: September 20, 2019, 13:17 IST

I Went to the Future, in a Hotel Where My Butler to Bartender - Were Robots

A dystopian reality created by Alibaba Group, Flyzoo Hotel utilises robots and artificial intelligence to serve its customers.

"This is it! This is the answer. It says here that a bolt of lightning is going to strike the clock tower at precisely 10:04 pm, next Saturday night! If we could somehow harness this lightning, channel it into the flux capacitor it just might work. Next Saturday night, we're sending you back to the future!"

In Back to the Future, Doc Brown, "a student of all sciences", turned a DeLorean car into a time machine to study the past and the future. DeLorean, an electric vehicle, was fueled by a power input of 1.21 gigawatts that was harnessed by plutonium, a lightning bolt or "Mr Fusion" reactor functioning on household waste.

The car displayed gauges for the operator to feed into and travel to their desired timelines. When set, the vehicle further needed an acceleration of 88 miles per hour to reach the requisite speeds of powering the flux capacitor. Once that checklist was complete, DeLorean could finally turn into a time machine. What was only left behind when it vanished into thin air were the fire-tracks of tyres along its path.

This was back in the year 1985. But most importantly, it was fiction, a man-made fantasy.

Until now.

Because I had the privilege to travel into the future and the vehicle that got me there was, thankfully, an unsophisticated, commercial aircraft. Flux capacitor, what?

The future was here at the Flyzoo hotel in Hangzhou, China.

A dystopian reality created by Alibaba Group - a Chinese e-commerce and retail giant - the futuristic hotel is located in Hangzhou’s Qin Cheng Li shopping centre.

What's so futuristic about it? The lack of human staff. Flyzoo hotel reimagines the hospitality industry by replacing oxygen-breathing humans with robots and artificial intelligence (AI) to get the work streamlined effortlessly. With labour costs cut already, the automation brings in an increased efficiency and response time. Long queues during checking in are a thing of past now.

To get started, simply go to Flyzoo Hotel app and from there you can book your stay by choosing a room with a view of your liking. Don't like what you see? Swipe left. Tinder for hotels? Pretty much.

Please Note: The hotel is currently catering only to domestic Chinese customers so I needed a hotel staff and Alibaba representative to get me around during my visit and for interpretation.

With that out of the way, once you are physically present at the hotel, you can opt for the facial recognition technology to assist you during the entirety of your stay. You face activates your floor. Your face becomes your key. Wish to use an elevator? Smile at the camera. Want to enter your room? Your face will let you through. No doorknobs. No more getting locked out of your room in embarrassing trunks. You're safe.

When I finally stepped into my chosen room, "Tmall Genie" became my companion. An Alibaba creation, this personal talking assistant is the Alexa equivalent of China. And it is just as good.

"What's the Wifi password?" "Tell me a joke." "Change the mood lights." Your voice is Tmall Genie's command.

But this was just the tip of the iceberg. The reduced human interaction reaches a new high when you ask the assistant for "room service". I asked for bathroom slippers.

After a few nervous moments later, my room's doorbell rang. There he was. Standing a meter tall and hovering around like it owned the place. It did. It was my hotel butler nicknamed "Tmall Elf".

Once it delivered what it was asked to, the robot retracted to the elevator and returned to its dock area at the reception. Of course, the robo-butler will be back at your service again should you call it using your voice command or gestures. Yeah, science!

But my time in the future had only begun. After "tiring" myself out with the whole time travel in and around the hotel, it was time to unwind with a cocktail.

My bartender? A robot (duh!).


The drink was quickly followed by some dessert.


Ever been served a strawberry ice-cream by a robot? I have!

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    Sure, Flyzoo does have real staff employed to take care of the hotel's cleaning and kitchen chores but then again, this was as close as I got to visiting the future. Perhaps, this was the future I lived at the Flyzoo hotel. Doc Brown, you know what you've gotta do.

    Alas, you can check out anytime you like (on the app) and you can also leave. It's no Hotel California, after all.

    first published:September 20, 2019, 09:38 IST
    last updated:September 20, 2019, 13:17 IST