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Major Japanese convenience store operator FamilyMart Co. said this week that it has introduced a robot with artificial intelligence that automatically restocks drinks at one of its stores in Tokyo.

The AI robot, installed at a store inside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry building in the Kasumigaseki district of Chiyoda Ward, restocks products by predicting sales based on the time and season.

FamilyMart, a subsidiary of major Japanese trader Itochu Corp. , aims to reduce the burden on store employees and boost high-value-added work, such as serving customers.

The robot was developed by Telexistence Inc., an information technology startup in Tokyo. The device, which comprises an arm, body, rail and other parts, is set between the display shelves and the storage shelves.

A robot works at a FamilyMart store in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday. | KYODO
A robot works at a FamilyMart store in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday. | KYODO

The robot’s arm uses an image sensor to detect whether the display shelves need to be refilled. The robot will restock drinks if necessary by grabbing products from the storage shelves one by one.

The robot can carry a plastic bottle or a can weighing up to 2 kilograms for some 30 seconds. It will operate 24 hours a day.

At FamilyMart stores, restocking drinks is done in a room whose temperature is set at 5 degrees Celsius and accounts for 30% of store employees’ work.

“We have high expectations that (the robot) will contribute to reducing (employees’) workload,” FamilyMart President Kensuke Hosomi said Tuesday.

The convenience store chain plans to install similar robots in more stores in the future.

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