The robot that stores drinks is the latest addition to the corner store | Sotck exchange

TOKYO (AP) — A small robot with a clip-like hand and smart enough to know which drinks are popular is part of an effort to make convenience stores even more convenient.

Recently in Tokyo, the robot named TX SCARA slid back and forth behind the refrigerated shelves at the back of a FamilyMart store.

The hand at the end of its mechanical arm grabbed a bottle or can from the batteries on the side, then the robot slid to the right place and placed the drink on the shelf – in a place chosen according to its intelligence artificial and its tiny cameras. sort of drink to what is lacking.

TX SCARA plays a necessary role in Japan’s “conbini,” as the ubiquitous tiny stores selling snacks, drinks, and trinkets are called.

Most of these stores are open 24/7, stocked with 3,000 types of products, but have relatively few workers. The rear drink shelves are farthest from the cash register, requiring workers to walk back and forth. And the drinks area is refrigerated, uncomfortably cold to keep people in it for too many hours.

TX SCARA, whose price is not disclosed, can restock up to 1,000 bottles and cans per day. Its artificial intelligence, called “GORDON”, knows when and where products should be placed on the shelves, according to Tokyo-based Telexistence, which created TX SCARA.

“We want to automate all the repetitive and boring tasks done by humans. This is the direction we are going. And the best way to do that is by using robots,” said general manager Jin Tomioka.

Industrial robots are already common in factories, but Tomioka’s 50-employee company sees great potential in warehouses and reception centers, he said. Its robots are much more affordable than industrial robots, such as those in car factories, but can prove to be just as crucial for social needs, designed to coexist and collaborate with people, helping with routine and rudimentary tasks.

Tomioka’s robots are suitable for existing stores, which do not have to change their layout or routine. Their hardware uses Nvidia’s GPU-accelerated AI technologies to enable remote control of Azure, the cloud computing service operated by Microsoft.

A Telexistence operator wearing virtual reality glasses can see problems as they arise, such as a falling drink, and fix them from the corporate office.

TX SCARA is now present in 300 of the 16,000 FamilyMart stores in Japan. There are 40,000 more conbini in Japan, and the United States has about 150,000 convenience stores.

With its aging population, Japan is experiencing a labor shortage that is only expected to worsen in the years to come.

FamilyMart General Manager Tomohiro Kano referenced the Japanese phrase “seeking even a cat’s paw for help” to describe how desperate a situation can get. “At FamilyMart, we are looking for the help of a robot arm,” he said with a laugh.

While modern robots take on serious work like mapping disaster areas and helping doctors perform surgeries, the humble TX SCARA tirelessly does the unglamorous job of stocking shelves with bottled tea and cold drinks. orange.

Computer scientist Taisuke Miyaki watched the robot work as it peered into the drink rack. He admitted he hadn’t noticed it before, although he often shopped at FamilyMart, especially for his favorite bottled jasmine tea.

“Coming to think of it, the shelves are always pretty full lately,” he said.

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter

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