One of Japan’s top convenience store chains plans to introduce digital avatars at over 200 stores in the next three years.

The labor shortage is an ongoing concern in Japan that’s being addressed differently by various companies. In particular, convenience stores across the country have tried to tackle the problem by hiring more foreign workers or even robot operators. On September 22, convenience store chain Lawson announced plans for their own unique approach: digital avatars at register monitors that are controlled remotely by real humans.  

Utilizing a system developed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University, the digital avatars will begin appearing at select Lawson stores as part of a trial phase at the end of November. If all goes well, the goal is to install them at over 200 stores over the next three years. The company is currently recruiting workers to operate the avatars for the trial phase to begin.

▼ A sample Lawson digital avatar that will start appearing in stores this November

The main draw of this system is that the digital avatars can be controlled remotely from home with a computer, camera, and microphone. There’s no need to go into an office with specialized equipment, which allows for a degree of flexibility that should appeal to potential workers who have young children, are elderly, or have disabilities that prevent them from working physically on site. Workers will be able to answer questions, provide directions to find items, and show patrons how to use self check-out registers, all from the comfort of their homes. Furthermore, one person will be able to control avatars at multiple store locations at once.

For those who have reservations about interacting with a digital avatar, Lawson CEO Sadanobu Takemasu recently stated that they are actively developing the technology so that each avatar isn’t just a cold, robotic representation of a human but instead radiates the warmth of a real person. Perhaps Professor Ishiguro’s team can get in touch with the scientists at the University of Tokyo who are developing robot fingers with living skin for a discussion on how to make that happen on both ends.

Source: Livedoor News via Hachima Kiko
Top image: SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!