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Saturday, Jun 15, 2024
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It Computes Shopping

Irvine Company is spicing up its retail scene with Pepper, a humanoid robot capable of understanding and reacting to human emotions.

The 47-inch-tall robot can interact with shoppers when it senses their presence. It also dances and can take selfies with them, answer questions about local eateries and products to be available at planned retail locations.

Still in testing, Pepper is an extension of the At Your Service concierge chatbot Fashion Island introduced in December to help shoppers find specific brands, stores or services offered at the outdoor Newport Beach mall. The software, powered by IBM Watson’s cognitive computing and machine-learning technology, communicates with users via texts sent to 949-734-7364, and produces better answers as shoppers continue to use it.

Pepper debuted in 2014 in Tokyo and sells for about $21,000, including a monthly service fee. SoftBank Corp. in Japan designed it with a human-like shape, six lasers, a 3-D camera, two 2-D cameras and a 10-inch touch-screen tablet. The technology enables it to analyze facial expressions, tone of voice, body movements and word choice to interpret shoppers’ emotions before offering appropriate content.

Several other companies already adopted retail-focused robots.

More than 140 SoftBank stores in Japan are using Pepper as “a new way of welcoming, informing and amusing their customers.” Home-improvement retail chain Lowe’s Cos. Inc. introduced its LoweBot last fall at 11 San Francisco Bay area stores. The autonomous robot can navigate a store to find products and respond to shoppers in multiple languages. It can also “assist with inventory monitoring in real-time.”

So can Tally, a robot Target Corp. uses to scan store shelves for low inventory or misplaced items.

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