Food & Drink

Remote-controlled robots to join FamilyMart’s workforce this summer

by Claire Williamson

Staff Writer

Japanese konbini: Eternal beacons of hope. Source of wacky culinary delights. Home of the ever-lingering fax machine and, now, humanoid robot staff.

This summer, convenience store chain FamilyMart plans to introduce remote-controlled robots into some of its Tokyo-area stores, according to a June 30 press release.

The robots are created by Tokyo-based robotics firm Telexistence, and workers will be able to control them from afar to help stock shelves with PET bottles and cup ramen.

According to FamilyMart, the robots will be controlled remotely by staff via virtual reality headset and glove controllers and, other than the gear, all potential workers will need is an internet connection.

With the new technology, the convenience store chain hopes to improve employee work-life balance and support stores with more limited staff, ultimately pivoting to a new “augmented workforce platform” — in which human workers are supported by artificial intelligence, robotics and other cognitive computing technology — for store operations. The robots will mean that fewer staff will be needed in person in store.

The goal is to introduce the robots into 20 of FamilyMart’s 16,600 stores by 2022, with each participating store assigned one robot. With the ongoing need for social distancing, hopefully these new robots will keep both FamilyMart staff and customers safe. Certainly brings a new element to the argument about which convenience store is best.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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