How SoftBank aims to change the retail experience with robotics
Mention the name of SoftBank to any technologist or anyone working in the IoT space, and invariably the information that comes back is not around what, but who.
The who in this case is Pepper, the company’s humanoid robot which has graduated from the company’s headquarters to working in various industries. The opportunities are seemingly limitless: in Japan, Pepper is being used by Nescafe to offer recommendations for coffee machines, while Nissan is employing the robot to attract more customers to their showrooms and Carrefoure, a European retail chain, is using Pepper to offer recommendations on wine, books, and recipes.
Earlier this week, Pepper officially launched in Taiwan at a bank and life insurer, employee ID card and all. But it’s not just the corporates that are getting in on the action; at a recent TechCrunch hackathon, Yosun Chang combined Pepper with her own augmented reality (AR) service to create an ordering experience where customers can see their food in AR before ordering.
Steve Carlin is VP marketing and business development at SoftBank Robotics, who will be at IoT Tech Expo North America later this month alongside his humanoid companion. He explains the importance of the community in improving Pepper’s abilities. “Pepper is as good as the development community allows it to be – we’re so excited that so many people are developing for Pepper as there really is no limit to what can be created for the robot,” he says. “We’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with robotics in retail, and every new application for Pepper is as important as the last.”
In terms of overall themes, Carlin explains that you can see robotics as the ‘next step beyond mobile for user experience’ – and retail is at the forefront of it. “The retail industry moved quickly towards eCommerce, and then took the eCommerce experience mobile. Robotics represent that next evolution in the consumer experience, and have the unique ability to fuse the in-store and online experience more seamlessly than any technology that has gone before,” he says.
“All the latest IoT technology – whether it’s for driving more context into the shopping experience, such as location-based tech, or for bringing down the barrier that a device can sometimes put in the way of a person and the world around them, such as wearables – is creating more of a connection between stores at their customers,” Carlin adds. “Robotics is at the frontier of that.”
With robotics, the security challenges are not that different from other technologies, if you envisage the robot as a platform for applications like any other website or device. Many clients who have rolled out projects with Pepper put them in a location surrounded by cameras, although Carlin is quick to point out that Pepper was built with security in mind.
“Security is a holistic solution and like all hardware devices it relies on the overall information security solution that includes the enterprise’s application, network and data centres,” says Carlin. “We also advise clients to treat its physical security as they would any other piece of valuable technology.”
Pepper is set to hit the US later this year, so for Santa Clara attendees it will in some cases be a chance to glimpse the future. Carlin is discussing the integration of robotics into retail spaces, and he notes the potential in store will be the most exciting aspect.
“IoT has the potential to affect every part of our lives for the better, and rewrite the rules for many daily experiences,” he says. “Some of the most exciting changes in business experiences are occurring in retail.
“The future of robotics in retail is an important topic, and I want to help retail executives think about the opportunity that robotics could bring to their stores and new interactions that could be achieved with their customers.”
Steve Carlin will be sharing a SoftBank Robotics case study within the Connected Services conference track on October 20th at 12 midday. Register for a gold conference pass for access to this session and more.
Author: James Bourne, Editor, TechForge
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