Asia Warms Up to Robots

They go to work in restaurants, warehouses and hospitals.

February 15, 2021

TOKYO—In Japan and other Asian countries, businesses are increasingly turning to robots and machines to reduce human contact as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to Asia.Nikkei.com.

In October, the Japanese restaurant chain Watami introduced service robots at its newly opened barbecue chain Yakiniku no Watami. The robots, called Peanut, are each about four-feet tall and have three built-in shelves on which plates can be transported between tables and the kitchen. The robots use artificial intelligence to calculate the shortest routes through the restaurant.

The Japan System Project started selling Peanut in March 2020, and since May, the company has received double the number of enquiries, mostly from restaurants and factories.

"Due to COVID, more businesses are considering robots as a way to avoid human contact," a company representative told NIKKEIAsia, adding that Japan System Project has already sold 15 units of Peanut priced at $19,000 each.

Keisuke Yamane, managing director at Accenture, said the pandemic has accelerated demand for robots in many industries from hospitals to delivery services.

In June 2020, electronics manufacturer Omron began selling robots originally designed for transporting goods in factories to other industries seeking to use them during the pandemic. Some of those robots have been enhanced with ultraviolet sterilization lamps for use in hospitals and schools.

In Japan, robots are seen as one solution to the country’s chronic labor shortage among a rapidly aging population. In October, Japan Post Holdings conducted an experiment in Tokyo to see how feasible it would be to use robots to deliver mail. In the test, a robot traveled almost half a mile, using sensors and cameras to avoid pedestrian conflicts.

"The pandemic has changed people's mindset, and more people have started to think that robots can replace work that has been long done by humans," a company representative said.

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