In the not-too-distant future, you’ll know you’re in an exclusive, upmarket store because a human is serving you – such is the uptake of robots in every aspect of retail in the next few years, a real, live assistant may become a rarity.
Robots in retail, how artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) will work its way into our lives will be discussed by QUT consumer behaviour experts Professor Gary Mortimer and Dr Kate Letheren at 11am at Robotronica on Gardens Point campus this Sunday, 18 August.
“We’ll see AI gathering our supermarket data and personalising offers to us,” Professor Mortimer said.
“For example, AI notes a person often buys Arborio rice, chicken stock, parmesan and chorizo and figures they regularly cook risotto but instead of offering a special on Arborio rice, it will go a step further and offer an Italian dessert such as tiramisu,” Dr Mortimer said.
“Soon supermarket products will be internet of things-enabled so that we’ll use our smartphones to scan an aisle for the best specials, or the low-calorie products.
“Behind the scenes, to meet the growing appetite for online grocery shopping, your fruit and veg, as well as other food, will be chosen and packed by vision-enabled robots.”
Professor Mortimer said robots in retail stores were not likely to be humanoid in appearance.
“We’ll have robots, more like moving posts, that will do mundane stuff – scanning shelves to reorder stock and checking for ‘price integrity’ to avoid the annoying wait that results when you get to the checkout and an on-special item comes up as full price, and a person has to go and check the shelf price,” he said.
“In hypermarkets or ‘big box’ stores with aisle upon aisle of stuff, you’ll ask a robot where to find the Phillips screws or the copy paper.
“But it won’t be just boring talking posts – already US frozen yoghurt company Reis & Irvy’s robotic arms craft your treat to your specifications. There are lots of interactive screens, and colour and cartoons so that it’s entertainment as well as sustenance.
“In Manhattan at Best Buy a large robotic arm called Chloe picks out customers’ movies, games and music from a wall of products.”
Dr Kate Letheren will talk about her research on consumers’ reactions to robots.
“We will see home delivery of our groceries and other purchases done by robots. Coming up are ‘in-home fulfilment services’ – your fridge knows when you’re short of milk and other necessities and reorders for you and someone comes and stocks your fridge,” Dr Letheren said.
“In the more distant future we will be 3D printing our food, but that’s further off at this stage.”
Dr Letheren said in-home service AI like Alexa and Siri would be further developed to personalise your experience, which might unsettle some people.
“One day, you’ll come home and Siri will say: ‘I see you’ve had a bad day’ and your favourite music will be playing.
“We know about the ‘uncanny valley effect’ proposed by Professor Mori, where some people feel that human-looking robots are creepy. We will start to see this psychologically too, when your in-home service robot or your AI assistant knows more about you than you do.
“I’ve found people’s reactions to robots depends on their personality – some people are naturally more open and optimistic, while others can be quite cautious.
“People are more accepting of robots if they know they can set the rules about how robots act, and if they know they are in control of the robot.”
Professor Mortimer and Dr Letheren’s talk “Robots and AI in Retail” will be held in Room 514 of P Block – the Science and Engineering Centre on Gardens Point campus from 11am to noon at Robotronica, Sunday, 18 August.