Japan's Future Stores May Deploy Robots & Customer Tracking
CREDIT: Robonable/Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International
Today's Kwik-E-Marts may morph into tomorrow's UbiMarts that can monitor shopping habits and deploy a robotic sales force to meet customer desires. Japan's vision for such stores includes laser range finders to track customers both inside and outside stores to see what products draw their attention, and robots making personalized recommendations.
The Ubiquitous Market (UbiMart) concept has only been tested in a mock convenience store, according to Plastic Pals. But Japan's Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) plans to test the system at a real store to track actual customer behaviors and see how well the robots do in targeting recommendations and sales pitches.
During the early tests, mock store passersby come under the scrutiny of six laser range finders that track people's locations in real-time. A robot standing just down the street can direct people to the store.
Once customers step inside, 18 laser range finders can see where a person lingers in front of a particular shelf. Cameras use gaze direction detection software to see exactly what product a person spends the most time looking at, and allows the system to record such preferences in a database of individual customer habits.
That information gathering allows a second robot inside the store to make its recommendations based on personal customer IDs. If the laser range finders detect a person walking unusually fast, the robot may even prioritize that customer as someone in a rush who needs help.
A 2009 test with 25 men and 25 women suggested that most enjoyed their interactions with the robots. But about 20 percent said that the robots sometimes complicated the shopping experience; a video provided by the Japanese website Robonable shows some delay in robot responses that may have been the culprit.
Still, Japanese researchers seem confident that they can fine-tune the system as an effective aid for shoppers by 2012. They suggest that mascot robots would boost interest from children, and add that the system works well in countering shop-lifting. All products would carry RFID tags regardless for easy tracking.
The success of such a system goes beyond the neat-o factor of any single robot, even if people may eagerly anticipate their Jetsons robot maids and butlers. It brings together technologies available today to make for a futuristic shopping experience that we hope should arrive sooner than a sassy Rosie.