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Convenience store in Japan using robot to test out retail automation
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TOKYO – In August, a robot vaguely resembling a kangaroo will begin stacking sandwiches, drinks and ready meals on shelves at a Japanese convenience store in a test its maker, Telexistence, hopes will help trigger a wave of retail automation.
Following that trial, store operator FamilyMart says it plans to use robot workers at 20 stores around Tokyo by 2022. At first, people will operate them remotely – until the machines’ artificial intelligence (AI) can learn to mimic human movements. Rival convenience store chain Lawson is deploying its first robot in September, according to Telexistence.
“It advances the scope and scale of human existence,” the robot maker’s chief executive, Jin Tomioka, said as he explained how its technology lets people sense and experience places other than where they are.
The idea, dubbed telexistence, was first proposed by the start up’s co-founder, University of Tokyo professor Susumu Tachi, four decades ago.
Their company has received funding from technology investment company Softbank Group and cell phone service operator KDDI in Japan, with overseas investors including European passenger aircraft maker Airbus SE. It dubbed its robot the Model T, a nod to the Ford Motor car that began the era of mass motoring a century ago.
Its quirky design is meant to help shoppers feel at ease because people can feel uncomfortable around robots that look too human.