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.

Feature Image Screenshots via Telexistence Inc.

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