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Serving up the future: Over 20,000 robots planned for Irish hotels and restaurants by 2028 logo 26/03/2023 Niamh Horan

Meet the man who is planning to flood Ireland with robots over the next five years.

Malachy Ryan, head of sales for Bear Robotics (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), predicts that between 20,000 and 30,000 robots will be serving tables, cleaning rooms and carrying laundry before 2028.

The Glenroyal Hotel in Maynooth, Co Kildare, already has a robot from Bear Robotics in place that has become a novelty for guests as they take photos of it delivering their food. It can sing Happy Birthday and greet customers by name before guiding them to their table.

Mr Ryan said the company has received significant demand and is already taking orders from employers who cite staff shortages, wages and reliability. Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend he said the company wants to stress that it doesn’t intend to replace jobs.

“We are not here to take jobs, we are here to lighten the load. These robots will be doing the fetching and carrying no one wants to do,” he said.

Mr Ryan, who oversees sales in 150 countries, said the growth in robotic service staff will be “exponential”. On the cost of the machines he said they will be “as cheap as chips”, costing €800 a month to run.

“The first time everyone is wildly excited, they are taking selfies. The restaurant manager tells me that people are ringing up saying ‘will we be served by the robot, it’s a family occasion?’ But when that settles down people realise it is solving a problem.”

The average waiter can safely carry two to three plates at once. The Bear Robotics robot can carry 16 plates at one time. In addition to transforming the hospitality industry Mr Ryan said the robots will become a common sight in hospitals and nursing homes where they can undertake jobs such as cleaning rooms, carrying laundry and lifting residents in and out of bed. ​

Asked about anxiety over potential job losses in the new dawn of artificial intelligence, Mr Ryan said: “The fear of the unknown is something that is ingrained in everyone but there is absolutely no chance that a robot will take your job. It is here to assist you. We want staff to be champions of this new technology. Think of it as a tool like a kettle or a toaster.”

However, Frank Connolly, head of communications for Siptu, said the hospitality industry will be apprehensive about the news.

“If you tell workers that robots who serve tables and clean dishes won’t take their jobs they will be left scratching their heads because that is exactly the type of work these workers are doing now. So I think this is a huge issue, especially when you are dealing with an industry that already undervalues labour.”

Michael Taft, head of research for Siptu, said Mr Ryan’s comments are “quite significant and not surprising”.

“Research has already shown that there will be two kinds of disruption to employment caused by artificial intelligence: job displacement, which means the job will no longer be there, and job degradation, which means people will keep their job but it will be more precarious, the work will be part-time and casualised,” he said.

“But people shouldn’t assume this will just impact so-called low-skilled jobs, it will also affect white-collar office administration jobs too. Technology has already disrupted employment but it has also provided us with huge opportunities.

“The question is will this change be something that is so profound that it will be unlike anything we have ever seen before.”

European spending on artificial intelligence is forecast to triple to over €19.5bn this year, according to research by Bergur Thormundsson.

Meanwhile, in a recent PwC Annual Global CEO Survey, 63pc of CEOs said they believe AI will have a larger impact than the internet.

In the Future of Jobs Report 2020, the World Economic Forum estimates 85 million jobs will be displaced and 97 million jobs will be created across 26 countries by 2025.

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