Japanese Retailers Use Robots to Stock Shelves

The virtual-reality-controlled robots will restock merchandise at FamilyMart stores.

July 10, 2020

TOYKO—In Japan, FamilyMart will replace some in-store assistants with virtual-reality (VR) controlled robots to restock shelves, Digital Trends reports. The social-distancing robots from Telexistence are humanoid Model H robots with stereo cameras, binaural microphones and haptic sensors.

Telexistence first revealed its robots in 2018. Humans teleoperate the robots via a virtual reality headset and haptic gloves. The humans work at VR terminals in a separate location than the store.

“Telexistence is a concept of using a remote robot as his or her extended being, to release humans from space-time constraints,” according to the company website. “It was first proposed by Dr. Susumu Tachi, Professor Emeritus, Professor of the University of Tokyo in 1980. It is an evolutionary form of…robot system[s] where the operator receives sensor information from the remotely located robot and controls the robot to conduct remote tasks.”

FamilyMart is testing the robot initiative at select stores this summer, with the goal to have robots in 20 locations by 2022. Japan also has a restaurant staffed by robots controlled by employees with disabilities.

As of late, robots are also helping stores and restaurants bring back salad bars, run restaurant kitchens, make deliveries and sanitize retail environments.