Bots in the "service robot" category are specialized to do everything from cleaning offices to performing ultraprecise surgeries.

Thanks to rapid advances in machine vision, tactile sensors and autonomous navigation, service robots have arrived. This year’s Automatica trade fair for “automation and mechatronics” in Munich featured an inaugural “service robot” section, as The FT reported. Bots in this category are specialized to do everything from cleaning offices to performing ultraprecise surgeries. In the consumer-facing service sector, robots have the potential to help shoppers navigate, fetch or deliver things, connect people with remote specialists and communicate in multiple languages.

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Lowe’s Innovation Labs just announced it will start testing a service robot at a hardware store in San Jose, Calif. According to Ad Age, the aim is for the multilingual robot to point shoppers in the right direction based on its knowledge of exactly what inventory the store has where and its ability to scan items brought from home so people can easily find replacements or similar goods. Store employees would then have more time to work with customers on higher-level questions and issues.

In the hospitality realm, Starwood recently unleashed Botlr at one Aloft hotel, a robot capable of delivering room service, replacing towels and checking in guests. Here too, the brand emphasizes that the robot doesn’t replace humans but augments its service. Royal Caribbean says its upcoming Quantum of the Seas will feature robot bartenders at a Bionic Bar. And a new restaurant in China is staffed by robots, from the line cook all the way to the servers. As in this case, service robots will clearly start taking human jobs, but ideally in ways that significantly enhance convenience and personal attention for patrons.