Robot that enforces social distancing and mask-wearing tested in Japan
Robots have been unleashed in Japan to help fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – by ordering members of the public to maintain social distance and wear a mask.
Shoppers in Osaka risk being confronted by a wide-eyed machine that will demand they put on a face mask while browsing items for sale.
While a stern telling off is also a consequence for those who do not keep a safe distance from other shoppers.
The Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto has created the machine – which has been named Robovie – is being trailed in Osaka with expectations that he could replace staff in stores across Japan in order to limit integration between humans amid the ongoing pandemic.
The machine has been programmed to memorise all 270 items on sale in the store it is being trailed and offers to help shoppers buy items as well as instructing them to stay safe.
Shoppers browsing items can expect Robovie to roll up beside them and ask “What are you looking for?”
He is also programmed to lead customers to the items they are searching for.
Local Japanese news reporters state: “if you use image recognition technology to find a customer who is not wearing a mask, you will be asked to cooperate in wearing the mask.”
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It is hoped that an emotionless robot will lead to less confrontations between customers and sellers as well.
NHK Hot News Ainu Mosir reports: “At the laboratory, I expect that a robot with no emotions will be easier to accept without stress than a clerk will ask you to wear a mask.”
Meanwhile, Takayuki Kanda, director of the developed ATR, says, "Through experiments, I would like to study how to speak and behave when paying attention, and find a method that is easy for customers to accept."
Robovie is due to continue his trial until the end of November – but Japan Today reports the experiment could be extended.
They report: “With the layout of the store inputted beforehand, the robot, equipped with a camera and sensors, is able to observe customer movements and measure distances using lasers as it patrols.
“The robot identifies customers who are not wearing masks and calls on them to do so after institute staff confirm through the camera that it has not made an error.
“The robot, which can direct customers to products in the store, also warns people who are not socially distancing when lining up to pay.”
Robovie is currently only operating three days per week; Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 3:30pm to 6:30pm.
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