After the way 2020’s gone, we’re about ready for our convenience store robot overlords.
Japanese store chains Lawson and FamilyMart have announced that they will be introducing simple robots to some locations. At present, the robots will simply be available for demonstration, but there are plans for expansion in the very near future.
Before we get too ahead of ourselves, it’s fair to say that these are not autonomous or AI machines. Rather, they’re tools enabling staff to quickly refill items on store shelves. A VR terminal will allow employees to guide the ‘bots where they need to go, meaning they can work from literally anywhere that can house the setup. Considering many stores are low-staffed with social distancing measures in place, this could be a major help for the chains — especially if one person can use the technology to keep multiple locations stocked up.
The goal is to have these shelf-stocking robots working in 20 stores by the year 2022. If they perform well, they might be used for other jobs besides shelf-stocking. For example, customers might find Lawson’s famous fried chicken brought out to them by a friendly VR-guided ‘bot. They could also expand employment opportunities for seniors and people with disabilities, as jobs previously closed off to them would now be possible thanks to the new technology.
So, what do we know so far? First off, we know what their first job will be: restocking bottled drinks. Once that’s being managed successfully, they’ll graduate to other items. We also know the robots are being developed by TELEXISTENCE inc., who have spent decades refining the Telesar augmented mobility robot. The description of what Lawson and FamilyMart will be getting sounds similar to newer versions of Telesar, including the VR station and the humanoid shape.
Speaking of the “humanoid shape,” some fans have been asking the important question: will it be cute? There’s no word yet on aesthetics, for better or for worse. But considering all the different collaborations Japan’s convenience store chains do with popular anime series, it can’t be long until the new additions to the team get some sort of theming. Until then, it’s fun to think of the possibilities… and to know that, rather than this being a hostile robot takeover, this new advancement may actually help people get jobs they couldn’t get before.