Toshiba and its subsidiary Toshibatec developed a pair of robots to assist elderly or disadvantaged shoppers, which they demonstrated during June’s ROBOMEC 2009 (Robotics Mechatronics Conference). The “Guidance robot” can guide you to the cashier or specific items (by product name) while the “Cart robot” carries your groceries for you. Using a system of 10 cameras throughout the store, the robots self-localize and maintain maps of the store and the contents of its aisles to dynamically generate the best paths and avoid running into other shoppers.
The “Guidance robot” has an omni-directional camera atop its “head” as well as front-mounted stereo cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and a laser range finder. Shoppers register themselves through the touch-screen interface, prompting the robot to record their individual shape and texture information (such as clothing) using its stereo cameras. This allows the robot to follow a specific person in a crowded environment. The touch-screen interface also provides information on goods and special sales.
The “Cart robot” doesn’t have a camera but is equipped with ultrasonic sensors and a laser range finder with which it follows the other robot. A potential flaw in its design is its ability to carry only 10kg (22lbs). Both robots have reflexive obstacle avoidance which kicks in based on the size and speed of potential collisions.
Developed as part of NEDO’s “Next Generation Robot Technology Development” strategy, these robots were unable to pass on to the next phase of development. The team has been dispersed and the project’s future remains undecided. However, Toshiba plans to further strengthen the communication and collaboration of specialized robots in the future. Some examples may include a self check-out (point of sale system), the ability to transport your items directly to your car in the parking lot, as well as automatic market research based on information gathered while the customer is shopping. Imagine a point of sale system near exits that scans the RFID signal from every item in your shopping cart as you pass through it: no more waiting in line to be checked out! Payment could even be processed discretely while you head to your car, without even stopping.
Toshiba | Robonable