Technology

A Robot Who Makes Site Visits

A newly acquired robot being tested at a Boston hotel may help you make long-distance site visits and — in a pinch — sit in at meetings.

Phil1Time constraints and budget restrictions sometimes stop meeting planners from making site visits in person. While 360-degree virtual tours can act as a serviceable substitute on occasion, nothing quite beats a planner’s ability to freely move about the property. That is why the Royal Sonesta Boston recently invested in a product that gives planners control over their site visit without ever leaving the office — an app-controlled, rolling robot from Double Robotics.

“We thought it would be great for our hotel to allow a meeting planner to come in and be in control of their visit,” said Scott Weiler, vice president of marketing & communications for Sonesta. 

Weiler and fellow Sonesta team members learned about the product at one of the company’s Meeting Planner Advisory Council sessions, and immediately saw its value. “A seller can always Face Time [a planner] and walk around with their phone,” Weiler said, “but we all like having more control than that.”

The robot — nicknamed “Phil” by the Royal Sonesta Boston team — is made up of just a tablet and a self-balancing, rolling base. After remotely downloading the app to a computer, phone, or tablet, users are able to remotely tap into Phil and take it for a spin. The Royal Sonesta Boston is still in the beginning phase of testing the product, but Phil is already making an impression. Sonesta unveiled it at another recent Meeting Planner Advisory Council session — where Convene was on site to witness — to accommodate a council member unable to make the flight to Boston.

“[The first planner to use the product] said, ‘Hey, it doesn’t replace physically being there, of course, but it’s better than just sitting on a web meeting platform,’” said Weiler. “Even if you have the visual connection to the screen, you pretty quickly become separated from the actual meeting that’s happening. Whereas having control of Phil, she was able to kind of turn and look at who was taking when she wanted to, when it made sense to her.”

In the future, Weiler envisions using Phil not just to accommodate meeting planners, but to make it available for use for meeting attendees as well. “We’d like to have it as a value-add opportunity,” Weiler said. “Whether it’s another a la carte, for-fee thing, or it’s a value added thing for doing business with Sonesta, I’d love it have it as an opportunity in all of our full-service hotels that have meeting capabilities at some point.”

Casey Gale