Japan’s convenience stores are facing somewhat of a labor shortage. In a bid to make it easier for these stores to stack their shelves, Japanese robotics firm Telexistence (TX) has developed a remote-controlled robot, the Model-T.
The humanoid robot with a cat-like head can be controlled via a virtual reality headset using the company’s “Augmented Workforce Platform” (AWP).
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In the trial video below, a man controls a Model-T in a FamilyMart store in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward from the Telexistence office, which is approximately five miles (eight kilometers) away in Minato Ward.
“With Model-T and AWP, FamilyMart and TX aim to realize a completely new store operation by remote-izing and automating the merchandise restocking work, which requires a large number of labor-hours,” Telexistence explains in a press release.
Though automated robots would have seemed like the obvious choice when it comes to facing a labor shortage, the Model-T will allow for stores to “operate with less workers, [enabling] them to recruit employees regardless of the store’s physical location,” the release continues.
Model-T’s almost cartoony cat-like features were no doubt chosen to give it a friendly appearance while also highlighting a nimble quality to its capabilities. While the trial video does show it’s perhaps not the speediest cat in town, it’s worth noting that the robot is yet to be deployed and will continue to be developed and improved.
To begin with, the Model-T will handle objects like bottles and plastic containers. However, Telexistence aims to have the robot handling more delicate items such as rice balls, sandwiches, and bento boxes in the future.
Aside from being a convenient way to reduce human contact in a post-COVID-19 world, Telexistence also suggests that FamilyMart staff might be able to be dispatched remotely to any store that is in most need of a worker at any given time.
Telexistence has a deal in place with Japanese convenience store FamilyMart. The robotics firm aims to deploy the Model-T in up to 20 stores by 2022.