Robot Vacation

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

It’s no secret that Japan is a nation of hard-working people plagued by an ever-shrinking population.  Maybe that’s why the Japanese government has plans to introduce legislation that would make it compulsory for employees to take at least five paid vacation days per year.  Requiring vacation might be the only way to make vacations happen; a 2013 survey by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare found that employees only took nine vacation days per year, even though they were entitled to an average of 18.5. A separate poll found that 1 out of every 6 workers didn't take any vacation days at all, according to the Japan Times.

But with Japan also facing a shortage of young workers, how can it afford to give more vacations as well?  Some companies think they have the answer - Robots.  

For example, Japan’s biggest bank is preparing to unveil robot employees with a human touch.  Nao, a 58-centimetre (1ft 11)-tall humanoid developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics – a subsidiary of the Japanese telecoms and internet giant SoftBank - will begin work on a trial basis at one or two branches of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in April.  Equipped with a camera on his forehead, Nao is programmed to speak 19 languages. He analyzes customers’ emotions from their facial expressions and tone of voice, enabling him to greet customers and ask which services they need.

Beyond that, the operator of the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki said its two-storey Henn na (strange) Hotel will be run almost entirely by robots, from its porters to room cleaners and front desk staff, when it opens this summer.  Guests at the futuristic hotel will be given the option of using facial recognition technology to open the door to their room instead of a key. About 10 human employees will work alongside their robotic colleagues.

The first building in the hotel will open with 72 rooms, followed by another 72-room building next year. A single room will be priced at 7,000 yen a night, or around $59. A twin room will set you back 9,000 yen, or $76.  "We will make the most efficient hotel in the world," company President Hideo Sawada said during a news conference, "In the future, we'd like to have more than 90 percent of hotel services operated by robots.”  They have hopes of building 1,000 such hotels in the future.  




The Japan Times

The Guardian