Robots hold an increasingly ubiquitous presence in China. Whether it be on an assembly line, in restaurants, or at a bar, our progressively intelligent companions are becoming part of daily life. Now, Alibaba wants them to take on hotels and hospitals.

Miffy Chen, general manager of Alibaba’s AI Labs, unveiled the company’s Space Egg and Space Shuttle service robots, the former designed for use in hotels while the latter has applications in medicine delivery. The announcement was made at the Cloud Computing Conference in Hangzhou, today (September 20).

While many fear that intelligent robots are a threat to their livelihood, Alibaba believes the robots could reduce to the workload of individuals in the hospitality and health sectors. At the event, Chen said that the company hopes to increase efficiency in the hospitality industry, adding that she believes the next three decades will result in huge disruptions in the robotics industry.

The robots are able to navigate autonomously and include multiple sensors that make them capable of avoiding collisions, understanding their environment, identifying individuals, controlling elevators, and comprehending features including room numbers.

The Space Egg is capable of carrying up to 30kg in its internal cavity, allowing it to deliver food and pick up and drop off laundry at a hotel guest’s room. The Space Shuttle can contain up to 60 compartments for medicine, and it understands gestures and voice commands.

The intelligence behind the robots, AliGenie, is the same that powers the company’s Tmall Genie smart speaker.

Alibaba AI Labs’ Space Egg service robot (Image Credit: TechNode)

On the sidelines of the conference, Alibaba told TechNode that the Space Shuttle also has applications in supermarkets, where it could be used to transfer goods around the store. Additionally, the robots can be customized according to a business’ needs. Both internal cavities and the robots’ exterior can be changed according to budget and purpose.

This is not the company’s first foray into the robotics sector. In 2016, the company unveiled its humanoid robot Pepper, which was touted as being able to scan passengers’ ID card and print their boarding passes at the airport. This year, the company’s logistics arm Cainiao showed off its autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) and autonomous arms that are used to sort goods in its warehouses.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the usage of service robots is on the rise, with the market’s growth expected increase from 20% to 25% from 2018 to 2020. At the same time, the sales forecast for the same period in the professional service segment will exceed $27 billion.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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