Autonomous robots are restocking the refrigerated sections in corner stores.
What’s new: FamilyMart, a chain of Japanese convenience stores, plans to employ robots to fill shelves with beverage bottles at 300 locations.
How it works: The TX SCAR from Tokyo-based firm Telexistence includes an arm and camera. It shuttles along a rail in between stock shelves and the rear of a customer-facing refrigerator, moving up to 1,000 containers a day.
- The arm is controlled by a program that scans customer-facing shelves and determines whether an item needs to be restocked. If so, the software directs the arm to grab bottles or cans and move them appropriately. It also analyzes sales patterns — for instance, which items tend to sell at what times of day or times of year — and adapts its behavior accordingly.
- If a robot encounters an unfamiliar item or obstruction, a remote human operator can pilot it via a virtual reality headset.
- FamilyMart and Telexistence began testing the system at a Tokyo store in November 2021.
Behind the news: FamilyMart also operates grab-and-go stores in which AI models recognize items as shoppers put them into carts and ring up sales automatically as they exit. Amazon has similar stores in the United Kingdom and United States.
Why it matters: Japan faces an aging workforce with no end in sight. People over 65 years old make up around a quarter of the population, which is expected to have the world’s highest average age for decades. Embracing robot labor is one solution, along with matching older workers with appropriate jobs and extending the retirement age.
We’re thinking: From making french fries to restocking shelves, the jobs that once were rites of passage for young adults are increasingly automated. Will the next wave of after-school gigs involve debugging code and greasing servos?