MSC Cruises' newest bartender is a humanoid robot and will soon be joined by more robotic co-workers

click to enlarge The MSC Starship Club on the MSC Virtuosa - Image via MSC Cruises
Image via MSC Cruises
The MSC Starship Club on the MSC Virtuosa
As the travel industry begins its slow recovery, the role of automation will increase, but few have embraced it in as fun a way as MSC Cruises. Joining the more than 1,700 crew members on board the cruise line’s flagship MSC Virtuosa ship will be Rob, the first humanoid robotic bartender at sea.

Rob the robotic bartender will be able to converse with guests in eight languages. His personality, seen through his conversational skills and LED-enabled face, adjusts based on the atmosphere.
click to enlarge Rob, the robotic bartend on the MSC Virtuosa - Image via MSC Cruises
Image via MSC Cruises
Rob, the robotic bartend on the MSC Virtuosa
Rob will be right at home in the sci-fi-like MSC Starship Club bar. A sterile, spaceship-like motif dominates the space. The all-ages drink lounge features 3D holograms, an immersive digital art wall, and a large community table with an infinity digital display. “Vertical digital cockpit” touchscreens allow guests to place their orders, which can be customized how they wish. A ticker-tape-style LED strip above the robotic island and multiple digital monitors throughout the space show the status of drink orders. Drinks are served in custom-designed futuristic collectible souvenir cups.

MSC claims the new Starship Club “uses cutting-edge robotics and digital technologies to deliver a futuristic, immersive entertainment lounge, completely re-imagining the traditional bar experience to transport guests to another world.” The bar is the culmination of almost six years of planning by MSC and included input by leading experts in automation, robotics, digital experiences, and interior design.
click to enlarge The MSC Starship Club on the MSC Virtuosa - Image via MSC Cruises
Image via MSC Cruises
The MSC Starship Club on the MSC Virtuosa
While Rob is by far the most impressive, MSC Virtuosa will have cutting-edge tech throughout. As cruise ships get larger and guest tastes become more elevated, cruise lines have turned to technology to ensure ever-improving service.

Rob will be joined by a handful of robotic crew members on other ships and attractions. Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class ships are home to the Bionic Bar, where robotic end effectors, or ‘arms,’ mix drinks in a custom bar. Costa Cruises has also tested out Pepper, Avatarion’s humanoid robot designed by SoftBank Robotics. Pepper has many of the same skills and autonomous features that Rob boasts, but Pepper was intended as a concierge robot with the ability to be operated by remote staff.

Disney has recently begun rolling out its own robotic staff, with autonomous automated club carts now available at select on-site golf courses. Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Aloft hotels also tested an autonomous delivery machine known as Relay: The robot can deliver snacks, drinks, toiletries, or other small necessities straight to your hotel room. U & Me Revolving Hot Pot near Disney World's entrance has seen success with its robotic waitstaff, designed to assist their human counterparts. Guests are shown to their table by a robot, and select food items are delivered to the table via different robots.

Automation has slowly been increasing in fast-food restaurants as well, with busier locations frequently turning to robotic options for basic routines like filling drinks or prepare some fried foods. Still, few robots have successfully fused the automation tasks with the conversational skills robots like Rob and Pepper reportedly have.

This friendly approach may remove some of the strictly practical nature that many robots still demand. With labor costs increasing and health concerns at the front of mind, fewer human interactions seem inevitable.
click to enlarge The MSC Virtuosa - Image via MSC Cruises
Image via MSC Cruises
The MSC Virtuosa
MSC is taking a bold approach to automation by literally placing it in the center of the space, making it the focus. As is seen at U & Me Revolving Hot Pot, where it is not uncommon for diners to snap photos of the robotic wait staff, automation remains a novelty, but as more places embrace it, that may not be true much longer. For MSC, the Starship Club’s sci-fi theme may remain in place, but its signature gimmick may soon become just another onboard convenience.

The MSC Virtuosa was delivered to MSC at the beginning of this month. Its maiden voyage is currently scheduled to take place later this spring.  

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