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ATR’s Ubiquitous Market

Since 2009, the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) has been developing a futuristic concept called the Ubiquitous Market (UbiMart for short) that makes use of networked robots and sensors.  Currently the system is being used in a mock convenience store.  The system tracks your shopping habits in the store and records what items you buy, which can then be analyzed to make product recommendations or give directions to your preferred items in the future.  Items that aren’t available at your current shopping location are automatically filtered out.  Experiments have shown that the system can determine which customers are in a rush based on how quickly they move, and can give preferential treatment to them.

In the future they plan on installing the system in an actual store to track real customer behavior, which should verify the effectiveness of the robot’s recommendations and sales promotions.  ATR will also make changes to the system as it is deployed in diverse settings.  Recently the concept of “Service Engineering” has been introduced to the service industry, where data from observation, analysis, design, and application can create an optimum loop, constantly improving the service model on-site.  ATR sees their UbiMart system as a new kind of tool that is useful for that sort of observation and analysis.

Currently 6 laser range finders track the position of people outside the store, where a Robovie-R3 gives directions.  Inside, the Robovie-mR2 stationed on store shelves (as well as digital signage) gives specific product recommendations based on your personal ID, as well as priority to customers in a hurry.  18 Laser range finders track each customer’s position and how long they linger on particular aisles, while cameras use previously-developed gaze direction detection software to determine what products are attracting attention.  Inventory can be tracked using RFID tags.

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In 2009, ATR conducted a study involving 50 people (25 men, 25 women) that showed promising results.  A survey revealed that a majority felt the robots made the experience fun.  However, about 20% of respondents felt the robots made things more difficult, likely due to bad timing of the robot’s speech.  With further adjustments and improvements, ATR believes the system will be commercially viable.  They could provide consulting services based on the data retrieved by the system, and product recommendations will help sales promotions, with brands paying an additional fee to have their products featured.  Side benefits including mascot robots’ popularity among children, and reduced incidences of shop-lifting, can also be expected.

[source: Robonable (JP)]