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Hilton has put this IBM Watson-powered robot on reception to answer guest queries

Connie, the first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hospitality industry, learns by interacting with hotel guests.

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The IBM Watson-powered Connie meets hotel guests at Hilton McLean.

Image: Green Buzz Agency/Feature Photo Service for IBM

If you're staying at the Hilton McLean hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia, a small town on the outskirts of Washington DC, it's entirely possible you'll be able to get tourist advice on local attractions from a robot working on the reception desk.

Powered by IBM Watson's cognitive computing abilities and Wayblazer, a cognitive travel recommendation engine, Connie -- named after Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton -- is described as the "the first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hospitality industry".

Connie is programmed to interact with hotel quests by answering questions about local tourist attractions, dining recommendations, and hotel features in a 'friendly and informative manner' in order to help visitors to the area plan their trips.

"We're focused on reimagining the entire travel experience to make it smarter, easier, and more enjoyable for guests," says Jonathan Wilson, vice president of product innovation and brand services at Hilton Worldwide.

The theory is that the more hotel guests interact with Connie, the more it learns, therefore allowing it to adapt and improve recommendations to hotel visitors. Connie is powered by a number of Watson APIs, such as Dialogue, Speech to Text, Text to Speech, and Natural Language Classifier, enabling it to greet guests and answer queries about the hotel, such as questions about services and opening hours of the hotel.

Connie is also equipped with Wayblazer, a cognitive engine which analyses cues and triggers in searches by travellers in order to personalise recommended results about hotels, as well as provide information about local attractions, which it will do for to those staying at Hilton McLean.

The robot will work alongside Hilton staff, who will have access to a log of answers supplied by Connie, which they can pass onto visitors.

According to Rob High, vice president and chief technology officer of IBM Watson, the project represents "an important shift in human-machine interaction".

"Watson helps Connie understand and respond naturally to the needs and interests of Hilton's guests -- which is an experience that's particularly powerful in a hospitality setting, where it can lead to deeper guest engagement," he adds.

Meanwhile, WayBlazer CEO Felix Laboy believes that Connie potentially represents the future of the travel and hospitality industry.

"We believe providing personalized and relevant insights and recommendations, specifically through a new form factor such as a robot, can transform brand engagement and loyalty at the Hilton," he says.

Hospitality is not the only industry using Big Blue's cognitive computing capabilities: professional services firm KPMG recently revealed that it's using IBM Watson to help manage the finances of clients.

IBM Watson uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cognitive computing in an effort to enable machines understand the world the way humans do: through senses, learning, and experience.

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