Tessa Lau, a computer scientist and cofounder of robotics company Savioke, says she frequently sees designs that neglect to take into account the perspectives of women and other minority groups.
Back when she worked for robotics research lab Willow Garage, she encountered “this enormous robot research prototype called PR2,” Lau recalls. “It weighs hundreds of pounds—it’s much larger than a smaller woman—and it has two big arms. It looks really scary. I didn’t even want one of those things near me if it wasn’t being controlled properly.”
At Savioke, Lau has made it her mission to design robots that are accessible to a diverse range of people. The Relay service robot, already in use at five hotels including the Holiday Inn Express in Redwood City and Aloft locations in Cupertino and Silicon Valley, brings towels, snacks and other deliveries straight to guests’ doors. The robots come with a touch screen that’s easy to reach for children and people in wheelchairs, and obligingly perform what Lau calls a “happy dance” if they receive a five-star satisfaction rating from guests.
“For most people, that’s the first time they’ve had a robot come to the door,” Lau says. “We want the experience to be a pleasant one.”