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It’s a weird world


Staff at Hotel Sky in Johannesburg’s wealthy Sandton district adhere to strict Covid-19 protocols, wearing masks and physically distancing from guests as much as possible; all, that is, except Lexi, Micah and Ariel.

For the three concierges couldn’t breathe germs on you even if they wanted to: they are robots.

Robot hospitality is not new —  Japanese hotels have been deploying them for years and in 2015 Tokyo’s Henn’na, or “Strange”, hotel became the first to be fully staffed by machines. Several robot-staffed Tokyo hotels are now using them to serve guests with mild Covid-19 symptoms.

But Hotel Sky, which launched this year, is the first in Africa to use automated attendants, a concept that could cause a stir in a country with one of the world’s worst jobless rates.

Unemployment is at 30,8%, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address last Thursday.

“It will never replace people, but it is going to change the space,” Paul Kelley, Hotel Sky managing director, said.

“I think that it is the future,” he said, adding that they planned to launch an offshoot in Cape Town next month.

Lexi, Micah and Ariel deliver room service, provide travel information and can drag up to 300kg of luggage from the marble-floored lobby to the rooms.

If the hotel receives a guest with Covid-19 symptoms, the robots could be deployed instead of people as a precaution.

Otherwise, “guests can choose whether they want to interact with staff members or make use of the self service, which is all controlled by their phone,” Herman Brits, the hotel’s general manager, said.

Steve Pinto, CEO of CTRL Robotics, which supplies the droids, said they could also scan customers’ facial expressions to determine how happy they were.

“It helps management to understand how customers are experiencing the facilities at the hotel,” he said, after getting a robot painted in a riotous orange and white pattern to take a selfie.

Reaction to the robots has been mixed. Even highly intelligent robots don’t always “get” what you want.

“I think the world is moving towards this digital space, but we are not used to it,” hotel guest Ernest Mulenga said. “The human touch is still something that is appealing to me.” —  Reuters.


All the Covid-causing virus circulating in the world right now could easily fit inside a single cola can, according to a calculation by a British mathematician whose sum exposes just how much devastation is caused by minuscule viral particles.

Using global rates of new infections with the pandemic disease, coupled with estimations of viral load, Bath University maths expert Kit Yates worked out there are around two quintillion — or two billion billion —  SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the world at any one time.

Detailing the steps in his calculations, Yates said he used the diameter of SARS-CoV-2 — at an average of about 100 nanometres, or 100 billionths of a metre — and then figured out the volume of the spherical virus.

Even accounting for the coronavirus’ projecting spike proteins and the fact that the spherical particles will leave gaps when stacked together, the total is still less than in a single 330 millilitre (ml) cola can, he said.

“It’s astonishing to think that all the trouble, the disruption, the hardship and the loss of life that has resulted over the last year could constitute just a few mouthfuls,” Yates said in a statement.

More than 2,34 million people have died in the Covid-19 pandemic so far and there have been almost 107 million confirmed cases worldwide. —  Reuters.

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