The Robot Shop Worker Controlled By A Faraway Human

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The Robot Shop Worker Controlled By A Faraway Human

In a quiet aisle of a small supermarket in Tokyo, a robot dutifully goes about its work. Reaching down, it grabs yet another bottle of a flavoured drink that humans like, lifts it and places it on the shelf of a refrigerated unit. Then the next one. People come and go.

It looks like a well-integrated autonomous mechanical worker, but that is something of an illusion. This robot doesn’t have a mind of its own. Several miles away, a human worker is controlling its every movement remotely and watching via a virtual reality (VR) headset that provides a robot’s eye view.

This is the work of Japanese firm Telexistence, whose Model-T robot is designed to allow people to do physical labour in supermarkets and other locations from the comfort of their own homes.

In this case, the robot is working at a FamilyMart shop in Tokyo. Eventually, it will handle more than just drinks bottles – rice balls, bento boxes and sandwiches should all be within its grasp.

The Model-T is a “human avatar” says Yuichiro Hikosaka, board director at Telexistence.

“You can go anywhere without moving yourself,” he says. The concept is called telerobotics or teleoperation, and it has been dramatized in dystopian sci-fi films such as Surrogates and Sleep Dealer.

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Remote-controlled bomb disposal robots have been around for decades but teleoperated devices are now doing more than ever before – including delivering food to people’s homes in the Covid-19 era.

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Mr Hikosaka points out that Japan, with its ageing population, is currently facing a labour shortage Рparticularly with regard to low-income jobs. He argues that this could be partly solved through deploying thousands of robots in locations where physical work occasionally needs to be carried out, and allowing companies to remote-hire people in order to operate the robot when needed.

“It’s maybe a ten-minute job,” he explains. “First of all, work in Tokyo but then ten minutes later you can work in Hokkaido.”

The Robot Shop Worker Controlled By A Faraway Human

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