Japan tests virus-proof robot waiters and mailmen
By Antonio Hermosin Gandul
Tokyo, Japan, Nov 11 (efe-epa).- Robots are a possible solution Japan has tested to work as waiters or postmen during the pandemic, among other professions which risk contagion and jobs with staff shortages.
Pepper Parlor is one of the many sophisticated coffee shops in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, although unlike the rest, most of its staff are robots.
The establishment serves as a showcase for the automatons marketed by tech giant Softbank aimed at businesses such as bars and restaurants.
Robots welcome customers, measure their body temperatures, remind them to wear a mask, disinfect their hands, and take their orders; while a new type of automaton, named Servi, brings food and drinks to the tables.
Softbank’s robotics branch initially opted for models such as Pepper, launched in 2015 and designed for entertainment and communication, but in the wake of the pandemic has decided to focus on models that meet the growing demand for “contactless operations,” Dai Sataka, business director of the company, told EFE.
“We have had positive reactions from customers because they think it reduces the risk of COVID-19 contagion,” said Sataka, adding that before the pandemic the company was not too keen on following through with its robot waiter prototype since it feared this wouldn’t be welcome in Japan, where customer service is very important.
Servi, which will go on sale next January, is capable of transporting trays with food and drinks from the kitchen to where the order belongs, avoiding moving or fixed obstacles in its path, and operate only via a table number input.
Sataka said they have received numerous requests from Japanese companies interested in “reducing their personnel costs and relieving their employees of work,” adding that according to the tests carried out by the company, the robot allows human personnel “to better serve customers.”
According the Sataka, the current robotics technology is still “several decades” away from being able to fully replace humans in these tasks, so the current strategy of his company is to “promote division of labor” between machines and humans.
The Japan Post company has also begun to test a prototype designed to transport mail and packages autonomously during the pandemic, a device that moves along the pavement and thanks to its cameras and sensors can cross zebra crossings or stop when a pedestrian gets too close.
This project began last year and was accelerated “due to the increasing requests of customers to receive letters and packages without having physical contact” with the delivery men, Takashi Ueda, general director of operations and innovation of Japan Post, told EFE.
The DeliRo robot, developed by Japanese company ZMP, is capable of transporting up to 35 kilograms of weight, and currently travels a single journey of about 700 meters in an area of ??Tokyo between a post office and a hospital, which takes about 25 minutes.
These tests will help Japanese authorities draw up specific road regulations for the operation of urban delivery robots for which there is currently a legal vacuum, said Ueda, who is confident the company can deploy a fleet of robots of this type in the next 3 years.
Japan Post believes the device has potential, especially in rural areas of the country, where the postal company has insufficient workforce and where it is also testing drones to deliver packages and letters.
Many Japanese companies are currently testing robots in different and increasingly advanced functions, such as remotely operated “avatars” for tasks facing the public such as the Model T robot used in various 24-hour convenience stores in Tokyo, remotely controlled by human workers to restock shelves.
The service sector is one of the most affected by the shortage of labor in Japan, a problem that has increased in recent years due to its low birth rate and its aging population.
In Japan there are 103 jobs for every 100 people looking for jobs, according to the latest data available for September, while the unemployment rate that month remained at 3 percent. EFE-EPA