IBM and Hilton Field-Test a Robot Concierge

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Hilton Worldwide and IBM have collaborated on a project that led the hotelier this spring to launch “Connie,” a voice-enabled,

Watson-powered robot concierge, the first of its kind in the hospitality industry. Connie draws on domain knowledge from IBM’s Watson cognitive computing engine and associated speech APIs and WayBlazer to inform guests about local tourist attractions, make dining recommendations, and introduce hotel features and amenities.

Connie, named for Hilton’s founder, Conrad Hilton, will work side-by-side with Hilton’s employees at the hotelier’s location in McLean, Va., site of the pilot project.

Currently stationed near reception at the Hilton McLean, Connie is learning to interact with guests and respond to their questions. Connie uses a combination of Watson APIs, including Dialog, Speech to Text, Text to Speech, and Natural Language Classifier, to enable it to greet guests upon arrival and to answer questions about hotel amenities, services, and hours of operation. By tapping into WayBlazer’s extensive travel domain knowledge powered by Watson, Connie can also suggest local attractions outside the hotel.

The more guests interact with Connie, the more it learns, adapts, and improves its recommendations. The hotel will also have access to a log of the questions asked and Connie’s answers, which can help enable improvements to guests’ experiences before, during, and after their stays.

“We’re focused on re-imagining the entire travel experience to make it smarter, easier, and more enjoyable for guests,” said Jonathan Wilson, vice president of product innovation and brand services at Hilton Worldwide, in a statement. “By tapping into innovative partners like IBM Watson, we’re wowing our guests in the most unpredictable ways.”

“This project with Hilton and WayBlazer represents an important shift in human-machine interaction, enabled by the embodiment of Watson’s cognitive computing,” said Rob High, IBM fellow and vice president and chief technology officer of IBM Watson, in a statement. “Watson helps Connie understand and respond naturally to the needs and interests of Hilton’s guests, which is an experience that’s particularly powerful in a hospitality setting, where it can lead to deeper guest engagement.”

The Hilton project comes just as Travelzoo, a publisher of travel and entertainment deals, reported the results of a study that found that more than 80 percent of travelers expect robots to play a big part in their lives by 2020. Robots in the travel industry are envisioned as better with data retention and recall and multiple languages than their human counterparts.

Still, don’t expect to see robots like Hilton’s Connie replacing human concierges just yet. The Travelzoo research found that consumers see the combination of robots and humans working side by side in customer-facing roles as the ideal situation.

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