Robotic helpers may seem like something out of science fiction, but one Australian test case has proven they’re more real than you might think, and there are plenty of commercial applications being investigated.
Providing customers with the best possible experience is one of the ultimate goals for any business, and evolving technology has always been described as a way to make our lives easier through convenience.
What the future of that convenience could look like in a retail environment was showcased at Stockland Merrylands Shopping Centre in Sydney, in a week-long test case that took place in early December. Stockland unveiled the southern hemisphere’s only humanoid robot, the REEM model robot ‘Chip’ from PAL Robotics.
Standing at 1.7 metres tall, weighing 100 kilograms and operating on an eight-hour battery, robots like Chip are programmed to assist customers through a variety of tasks.
Currently they are able to provide product samples and surveys, complete a navigation challenge around objects and people, provide directions to storefronts and, of course, pose for selfies.
“We’re using Chip to pilot practical applications of technology that is available today, with much longer-term thinking about what the future might hold for our customers,” says Michael Rosmarin, group executive and chief operating officer at Stockland.
“[This] test case is just a glimpse into the possible opportunities for the future of retail in Australia.”
The reasoning behind using Stockland Merrylands as the test location was that, according to Mr Rosmarin, there is a wide range of demographics of consumers surrounding the shopping centre, with more than 75 nationalities represented.
He says this is a “real environment [outside] the typical CBD shopping areas”, which provided Chip with a diverse range of customers to interact with.
While this test case was strictly within a retail environment, robots have applications in a wide range of industries. These include completing tasks such as facial recognition to identify familiar and unfamiliar individuals, using sensors to navigate autonomously around both stationary and moving objects, and carrying goods up to a combined 30 kilograms.
“Properly leveraged, the capabilities of robots can enhance the overall customer experience,” Mr Rosmarin says.
Commenting on the ways in which technology is transforming the retail experience, Angus Nardi, executive director of the Shopping Centre Council of Australia, says: “In the ever-changing retail landscape, technology is increasingly critical to drive innovation, efficiency and customer engagement.”
Chip’s test case was a part of a joint initiative with the Commonwealth Bank, and will form the basis of research into the commercial applications of robotics by UTS and the Australian Technology Network.