A number of hotels experiment with robotics in China, Japan and South Korea. Picture: Supplied.
Five years ago, China’s President Xi Jinping called for a “robot revolution”. The goal, analysts say, was to boost automation and give the sleeping giant a global manufacturing edge for years to come.

Chinese factories are being flooded with robots, but now the machines are appearing in more public settings.

Recently, Anna Fifield, The Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief, found this out first-hand during a trip to Shanghai. While checking into a local hotel, she said, she noticed a slender trash-can-shaped robot in the lobby, its cylindrical body plastered with a tiny human-ish face. The hotel’s receptionist told Fifield that if she needed anything she could request a robot delivery.

The next morning, after asking for more coffee, she found herself face-to-face with the delivery bot.

She posted a short video showing the human-robot interaction on Twitter and it quickly received nearly 7000 retweets, a testament, perhaps, to the public’s growing curiosity about life populated by robots.

After greeting the machine, Fifield located her coffee - inside a grocery bag-size compartment concealed by a sliding door that opened when she pressed a graphic on a touchpad.

Though potentially confusing to English-speaking audiences because of the language barrier, Fifield said the engagement felt “surprisingly natural”.

“When the robot arrived, it called my room phone and told me, in Chinese and English, that it was at my door,” Fifield said. “When I went out, it was waiting. It said in Chinese: ‘You are the cutest person in the whole universe. Do you want to take a selfie with me?”

She added: “When it was leaving, it said: ‘I hope my service leaves you in a good mood for a century’.”

A number of hotels experiment with robotics in China, Japan and South Korea. In the US, the trend is beginning to catch on. But Steve Choe, general manager of the InterContinental Los Angeles Century City, was sceptical. “With robots, you don’t get personalised service. Those are the touches people still want.”

The Washington Post.