Quirky Japanese Hotel Replaces In-Room Robots When They Turn Out to Be Hackable, Can Be Turned Into Peeping Toms

Japanese hotel chain, HIS Group, famous for its robot-staffed hotels, has apologized for ignoring warnings that their in-room, bed-facing robots were hackable.

The group acknowledged it had been possible for people to gain unauthorized access to the Tapia robots in its Henn na Hotel chain and therefore the guests' private rooms, reports The Register.

The Henn na Hotel—translated as "Strange Hotel"—is located near the Tokyo Disney Resort and is famous for being staffed by robots. Guests can be checked in by a chatty dinosaur robot or an ultra-polite humanoid reception bot on arrival.

Hotel rooms are unlocked using facial recognition technology, and inside each room is a bedside bot that acts as a virtual assistant.

On October 11, a security researcher tweeted that he had warned HIS Group in July about the bed-bots being easily accessible but received no response.

The researcher said the bots sported "unsigned code" allowing a user to tap an NFC tag to the back of the robot's head. This would then allow access to the in-room robotic cameras via the streaming app of their choice.

By exploiting this vulnerability, anyone with access to the hotel room could use the robot's cameras and microphones to spy on guests.

"We apologize for any uneasiness caused," HIS Group tweeted as an apology. The company also said that a maintenance procedure had been undertaken on the robots.

Guests at Henn na Hotel can be checked in by a chatty dinosaur robot or a humanoid reception bot on arrival. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty

This was not the first time that the chain had been made aware of possible unauthorized access to its Tapia robots. On July 6, the chain received an email from a guest who pointed out a "security vulnerability" in the robots, according to The Tokyo Reporter.

After the development company behind the Tapia robots was contacted, it was decided that "the risk of unauthorized access was low" and determined that the guest was motivated by a "monetary return."

The chain has suffered from a bunch of other robot-related issues, including problems with voice recognition systems reacting to guests snoring and a failure of the reception dinosaurs to understand the names of guests.

In January, the hotel "fired" half of their robot staff since a large percentage of the robots were more adept at creating work for their human counterparts than reducing it.

Human staff ended up working overtime to repair robots that stopped working, from the luggage-carrying robots who could not carry luggage to the original in-room robot assistants, which guests complained could not answer even the most basic questions.

According to H.I.S. Group, the company created the hotel in part to respond to societal issues in Japan. Recent reports indicate that there may be a shortage of as many as 3,000 hotel rooms in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. It was thought that robot-staffed hotels may be part of the solution to this problem.