- October 2, 2021
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Housekeeping robots and meltable bedsheets are no longer the stuff of sci-fi. Here's how UNLV and industry partners are helping to steady a shaken hospitality industry through innovative product development.
After a long day of traveling, sightseeing, or business meetings, hotel guests want nothing more than to rest their belongings — and their heads — in a clean room. Never has this expectation been more pronounced than in the post-pandemic world where “clean” just doesn’t seem clean enough.
Hotel operators are responding to its customers’ heightened sense of health-and-hygiene by calling for more effective, efficient ways to approach housekeeping and guest safety.
Heeding the call, a slew of innovative companies are coming forward with new concepts and products that promise more sustainability, less person-to-person contact, and, yes, a new level of “clean.”
But in the competitive hospitality market, how do these innovations actually make it to your hotel room?
As part of its mission to bring the ‘Hotel of the Future” to life, Black Fire Innovation is championing the product-to-market process by serving as an incubator for emerging technologies and solutions that support the gaming, hospitality, and entertainment industries. Black Fire partners UNLV and Caesars Entertainment created a replica resort so that innovators can test and then showcase their concepts to potential buyers in a realistic setting.
“Black Fire is a great networking platform for businesses that are looking for the next big thing and for producers, like us, who are hopefully creating the next big thing,” said Eric Eisenberg, VP of Hospitality for PÜRLIN – a Florida-based startup that is demoing its recyclable bedsheets in one of Black Fire’s hotel innovation rooms.
An alumnus of the Harrah College of Hospitality, Eisenberg uses his background in hotel operations to communicate the merits of PÜRLIN’s “single guest use” sheets, which are recycled through an eco-friendly melting and regeneration process.
Black Fire’s industry pull and showcasing power give producers like Eisenberg an edge.
“When folks come into the innovation rooms at Black Fire and touch the sheets, they say ‘this can’t be real! These are so soft,’” said Eisenberg, who maintains a workspace at Black Fire. “But I’m right there and I can talk them through the process on the spot. This saves about 50 steps.”
A hub for product research, Black Fire uses its resources to take on some of industry’s biggest questions and challenges. One of its testing projects, Rosie, is a high-efficiency housekeeping robot developed by Texas robotics company Maidbot. Created for big commercial operations like hotels and resorts, the Rosie automated cleaning system is purported to save time and reduce risks associated with person-to-person contact and worker injuries.
Maidbot founder and CEO Micah Green says his team has been collaborating with Black Fire Executive Director Robert Rippee to study how AI can be successfully integrated into the hospitality space.
“Hospitality has always been so much about human interaction,” said Green. “Dr. Rippee saw the opportunity to look at the human/robot relationship in the hospitality environment so the industry can figure out how to bridge this kind of interaction – looking at how you write the rules for this kind of interaction, how you operationalize it.”
On top of the visibility generated at Black Fire Innovation, Maidbot and PÜRLIN got a major boost last year with the Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In October 2020, they were two out of eight winners of the $1 million prize, established by the Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation in partnership with the UNLV Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Lee Business School to hasten the development of products aiming to curb some of the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry.
Recognizing the pandemic as a wake-up call for the industry and a call to action for problem solvers like Maidbot and PÜRLIN, the Lee Prize set out to remove some of the barriers associated with launching a business, allowing emerging companies to lean in to opportunities.
“Hospitality is such an unknown field for the traditional investor,” Green said. “With that, it can be tough to raise capital. The Lee Prize helped us with resources, but we also got some great feedback from some really interesting people through the process. It opened the door to some great connections.”
In addition to renowned industry experts, like Wolfgang Puck, Mark Davis, and Bill Hornbuckle, the Lee Prize Committee included judges from UNLV’s Business, Science, Engineering and Hospitality units. Campus/community partnerships like this help promote a culture of innovation at UNLV, placing students at the forefront.
“COVID-19 has taught us that we have to be ready to adapt to sudden shifts in the industry and customer expectations,” said Stowe Shoemaker, dean of the UNLV Harrah College of Hospitality and Lee Prize judge. “What works today may not work tomorrow, so we want to encourage our students to be nimble and revolutionary in their thinking.”
With the support of community partners like the Lee family and Caesars Entertainment, UNLV is priming students to drive real change in the world – even if it happens one hotel room at a time.
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