For years now the convenience store industry in Japan has been facing a labor crisis. Rapid expansion and demanding conditions have made it hard to find sufficient staff and help wanted posters have become permanent fixtures on many locations of chains such as Lawson, 7-Eleven, and Family Mart.
In response, the chains have been looking to technology for help. Lawson is currently testing self-payment systems and Family Mart has enlisted the help of Model-T.
Designed by Japanese robotics firm Telexistence, Model-T is remote controlled by a human equipped with a VR set using their “Augmented Workforce Platform.” In the following trial video, a young man pilots a Model-T in Tokyo’s Tshima Ward while he himself is sitting in the Telexistence office eight kilometers away in Minato Ward.
In this demonstration, the Model-T is stocking drinks which would normally require at least two workers on site so that one person could watch the counter. In this way, however, a single robot operator could keep the drinks stocked at several locations throughout the day while the in-house staff focus on the customers.
The response online was generally welcoming as well, with many hoping to see a cat-bot working in a conbini near them soon.
“I would love to see a remote-controlled robot working at a convenience store!”
“Why do they have it working in the back? I want to see it.”
“The speeds seems to be a problem. I wonder if it’s really more cost-effective than humans.”
“Convenience stores can’t seem to hire anyone these days, so this will almost certainly happen.”
“I tried going to Toshima to check it out but I couldn’t see past the drinks.”
“They should make the robots look like Famichiki Senpai.”
“This is amazing. I would love to have a robot go out and do all my stuff for me.”
“They should set it up so that people can get items for games by working at Family Mart.”
“Why does it look like the grandpa in Tekken?”
This project is also in-line with the Japanese government’s moonshot initiative to have most labor converted to robot avatars that can be piloted by people of all ages and physical limitations by 2050.
In the meantime, by the year 2022, Family Mart plans to have Model-Ts in up to 20 locations as the speed and accuracy of the system is improved, and from there gradually roll them out to all stores.
Sources: Telexistence, FamilyMart, Impress Watch, Hachima Kiko
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