VR-controlled robot shelf-stacker starts shift in Japanese stores
Robots are an increasingly common sight in stores, helping customers carry their shopping, keeping track of stock and mapping the layout. Now they’re getting a bit more hands-on thanks to Japanese company Telexistence, which has begun trials in convenience stores of a robot shelf-stacker that can be controlled by a human via VR.
The Model T (yes, it’s named after the classic Ford car) looks like the most mundane Gundam ever. It’s basically a robot torso mounted to a waist-high platform, restocking shelves in a store with its two articulating arms and complex hands.
But it doesn’t need to be particularly artificially intelligent to do this. The Model T is directly controlled by a human using a stock-standard VR setup from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection.
The robot’s joints have 22 degrees of freedom, giving it a pretty wide range of movement without requiring much more space than a human would need. Telexistence also says the video connection between the robot and the human operator has a latency of 50 milliseconds, so it should be smooth-controlling.
That said, in the video it does look like pretty slow going, with the robot timidly restocking bottles of drinks at a pace that would get a regular human worker called to the manager’s office. Still, maybe the human operator was unfamiliar with the tech and was just being a bit overly cautious.
It’s a little hard to see what advantages the robot has over a human employee, but Telexistence says that it could allow staff to work from home – crucial in our current age of social distancing – and recruit workers from basically anywhere.
The first trials are now beginning between Telexistence and FamilyMart, a major chain of Japanese convenience stores. The companies say that the Model T will start off working out the back, restocking plastic beverage bottles, while its speed and accuracy are verified.
Later on, FamilyMart and Telexistence will test the robot’s abilities at handling other items, like rice balls, sandwiches and bento boxes. The plan is to have the Model T in up to 20 stores by 2022, with the eventual goal of expanding that to every store in the country.
Check out the Model T in “action” in the video below.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm