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.
Feature Image Screenshots via Telexistence Inc.