Gliding silently through Alibaba Group Holding's futuristic "FlyZoo" hotel, black disc-shaped robots about a meter in height deliver food and drop off fresh towels.
The robots are part of a suite of high-tech tools that Alibaba says drastically cuts the hotel's cost of human labor and eliminates the need for guests to interact with other people.
Inside the hotel, softly-lit white paneled walls bring to mind the interiors of Hollywood spaceships. Guests check in at podiums that scan their faces, as well as passports or other ID. Visitors with a Chinese national ID can scan their faces using their smartphones to check in ahead of time.
In the rooms, Alibaba's voice command technology is used to change the temperature, close the curtains, adjust the lighting and order room service.
At the hotel's restaurant, taller capsule-shaped robots deliver food that guests have ordered via the FlyZoo app, while at a separate bar, a large robotic arm can mix more than 20 different types of cocktails. Facial recognition cameras add charges to the room rate automatically.
To check out, guests press a button on the app after which the room locks and they are automatically charged through Alibaba's online wallet. Once this is done, the guests' facial scan data is immediately erased from Alibaba's systems, said Wang.
Celebrating 'the empty'
FlyZoo - whose name derives from a pun in Chinese for "it's a must to stay here" - is located in the city of Hangzhou, 170 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, and is within walking distance of Alibaba's headquarters. Room fees start from 1,390 yuan ($205) a night.
It does employ humans, though Alibaba declined to detail how many. This includes chefs and cleaners as well as reception staff, who will assist with conventional check-in procedures for guests unwilling to have their faces scanned and want to use electronic key cards.
But advanced technology involving personal data - including facial recognition - has become increasingly common in China, where regulation is minimal and the government has rolled out public surveillance projects that use biometric data.
Alibaba intends to build some other hotels but they will primarily be used by company staff on business trips to head offices in Beijing and Shanghai.
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