LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Are robots the future of helping the struggling hospitality industry? That’s what researchers at New Mexico State University are working to find out. It’s no secret many hospitality businesses are having a hard time hiring right now. Two researchers at NMSU say robots may be able to take over some of those jobs.

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“One of the reasons we’re studying this is that most of what we do in the hospitality industry can be done by a machine now… whether that’s a robot or chatbot or back of the house type machine but whether or not guests will accept that as service because it is a people business,” said Betsy Stringam with NMSU.

So they put Pepper the robot in NMSU’s student-run cage without warning to see how unsuspecting students would interact with the robot. The researchers thought Pepper would make a good greeter or help seat people at tables. It turns out most people were just entertained by the robot while waiting in line.

Even though robot technology is advancing and some may even look human, researchers say they’ll never replace people but they could help people out with their workloads. “We don’t want robots to take peoples’ jobs. We want robots to help do the parts that are harder. We want robots to assist in certain aspects so people can do things that people are better at because there are a lot of things that robots are really not good at,” said Marlena Fraune with NMSU.

Wider research has found robots like Pepper can be helpful to people who do not have smartphones helping them look up maps and information for areas they may not be familiar with. Researchers say robots like Pepper can also recognize the faces of returning guests or customers.