Japanese Convenience Stores Introduce AI-Powered Shelf-Stocking Robots

Family Mart, Japan’s second-largest convenience store chain, recently started using AI-powered robots to restock shelves, as a way to deal with the country’s fast-shrinking workforce.

The decline in labor population is one of the biggest threats to businesses operating in Japan, and some have already started looking for ways to replace human workers. Case in point, major convenience store chain Family Mart, a company has recently teamed up with Tokyo-based robotics company Telexistence to introduce AI-powered robots in hundreds of its stores across the country. The new “employees” will be in charge of replenishing drinks in refrigerators and are expected to make human workers’ jobs easier and, in some cases, replace them completely.

Called TX SCARA – short for Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm – Telexistence’s new robot is powered by Nvidia’s Jetson AI platform to process information and uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure to record and reference sales data to optimize its tasks.

According to Telexistence, each TX SCARA robot can replace one to three hours of human labor per day, per convenience store, with that spare time spent in areas where human work is even more important, like customer service and shop floor enhancement.

Apparently, the new shelf-stocking robots can work without any human assistance 98% of the time; the other 2% of the time, they can be controlled remotely by humans, using virtual reality headsets when needed. Telexistence will receive a monthly fee for the robots’ work, their maintenance, and the support of remote human workers when they are needed.

TX SCARA robots are being introduced in about 300 Family Mart stores across Japan, but this is only the beginning. If they prove as useful as Telexistence expects them to be, there are plans to have them rolled out in the company’s 16,000 Japanese stores.

And just in case you thought American convenience stores were safe from AI-powered, job-stealing robots, think again! Telexistence and Microsoft have both announced plans to expand into the US convenience store market, as well as other foreign markets.

“Telexistence’s robots will become a powerful influence, providing a virtually inexhaustible supply of new labor,” Telexistence CEO, Jin Tomioka, said. “The new surplus resources will be appropriately redistributed through market mechanisms, and in the long run, this can lead to the transition of human society to be significantly augmented by automated labor.”


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