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Alibaba opens its first automated hotel as it pushes development of smart technologies

A robot serves a guest at FlyZoo Hotel. Photo: IC

China's e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has opened its first futuristic hotel where customers are served by robots and smart machines, a latest move that reflects the company's ambition to promote wide use of intelligent technologies.

In FlyZoo Hotel, which is located in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, robots serve as receptionists which are tasked with confirming guests' identities through facial recognition and leading them to rooms they book.

Customers are allowed to enter rooms, canteens and gymnasiums after they simply scan their faces. Thanks to the non-contact inductive positioning system, elevators can automatically respond to the demands of customers without them using fingers to press the buttons.

Each room is equipped with Tmall Genie, a smart speaker that customers can use to control air conditioner, television, lighting and curtain and even order food and drinks which are delivered by robots.

When customers want to check out, they only need to complete payments on an app, with their rooms left to nearby human service staff for cleaning up.

Moreover, regular customers can enjoy a preferential policy that allows them to pay no deposit if their ratings on Sesame Credit, a credit scoring service developed by Alibaba's financial arm Ant Financial, are good.

"Different from an ordinary hotel, FlyZoo Hotel is an innovative technology-enabled 'new species' created by many teams of the Alibaba economy," said Fliggy, the travel unit of Alibaba, in an article published on its WeChat account.

A total of six units of Alibaba take part in the creation of FlyZoo Hotel. Fliggy is responsible for the user experience design; the Damo Academy outlines the plans for the hotel's innovative services; Alibaba Cloud provides big data analytics; the AI Labs designs the smart robot waiters; Alibaba Flab oversees the digital operating platform of the hotel and the research and development of the AI service center; and Tmall Marketplace takes the charge of marketing of the hotel's theme rooms.

In this joint effort, FlyZoo Hotel boasts a management efficiency rate that is 1.5 times higher than its traditional counterparts, said Wang Qun, the hotel's chief executive officer. "By virtue of the solutions of digitalization and intellectualization, Alibaba is equipping hotels with smart brains in a new effort to update the industry," said Wang.

In October, Fliggy announced the establishment of a new international alliance, in which it would join hands with travel service providers and tourism bureaus to create a digitalization era for the industry.

In China, big technology firms have been pushing forward with the use of smart robots and technologies in public facilities including hotels, stores and banks.

In July, UK-based InterContinental Hotels & Resorts worked with Baidu to launch artificial intelligence-powered rooms in China in an effort to improve and redefine customer hotel experience in the country's hospitality industry.

In April, China Construction Bank opened the country's first unmanned bank branch in Shanghai, which is run by robots and advanced technologies including facial recognition, voice navigation, holographic projection, virtual reality and augmented reality.

Earlier this year, Tencent partnered with Denmark's Bestseller Fashion Group to launch clothing stores driven by facial recognition in China. At some Bestseller shops, customers can enjoy tailored dress collocation services by simply scanning their faces in front of a computer screen stalled in the fitting rooms, with an algorithm-based computer matching their faces with possibly suitable clothes chosen from Bestseller's product library.

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