Japanese Stores Now Use Robot Workers to Stock Empty Shelves
Convenience stores in Japan are now deploying remote-controlled robots that can stock empty shelves with bottled drinks and other items.
Stall-E: Model-T, a kangaroo-like robot created by Japanese startup Telexistence, can handle any shelf-stacking chore with the help of a human “pilot” who wears a virtual reality (VR) headset and special gloves to control its movement remotely.
Model-T’s name is derived from the Ford car that pioneered assembly line production over a century ago.
Equipped with cameras and other sensors, the robot is able to move around on a wheeled platform.
The human “pilot” uses microphones and headphones to communicate with people in the store.
Model-T has three “fingers” on each hand and when its body is extended to its full height, it can rise up to 7 feet tall.
Telexistence business development and operations head Matt Komatsu told CNN that the robot can “grasp, or pick and place, objects of several different shapes and sizes into different locations.”
According to Komatsu, Model-T is more versatile than the robots currently used in warehouses and other stores.
Warehouse robots “pick up the same thing from the same place and place it on the same platform — their movement is very limited compared to ours,” he noted.
Robots for hire: Model-T will not be sold per unit but its services can be provided for a fee at an amount reportedly cheaper than human labor.
FamilyMart and Lawson, two of the largest convenience store operators in Japan, are the first to deploy Model-T.
Lawson deployed its first robot in a Tokyo convenience store this week, while FamilyMart did a trial last month and is preparing to deploy units in 20 of its stores by 2022.
Since the robot can potentially be controlled from anywhere in the world, it opens up the possibility of hiring operators from overseas.
FamilyMart representative Satoru Yoshizawa noted that Model-T will enable their chain to operate with fewer employees with one person potentially working at multiple stores with remote-controlled robots.
Upgrades coming: Telexistence is still working on improving the robots to make them as fast and efficient as their human counterparts.
Currently, the robot takes about eight seconds to put one item on a shelf, compared to the five seconds that a human can.
Model-Ts can also only handle packaged products, not fruits, vegetables and other loose items.
The company is also planning to use A.I. to teach the robot to replicate human movements on its own so a pilot will not be necessary to operate it.
The introduction of robots will help in reducing the labor shortage found in the country as a large fraction of the population is over the age of 65 and stores are expanding.
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