If you happen to be in Palo Alto, Calif. this week, check out the small consumer electronics store B8ta. Why? You'll be able to get a glimpse of retailing's possible future via Pepper, a robot from SoftBank Robotics. The robot greets visitors when they enter the store and can answer specific questions about particular products. It also can be used to observe or query customers, noting what products they look at or asking them about their shopping experience. SoftBank started offering consumers a demonstration of Pepper at B8ta last Thursday, the first chance for the public at large in the United States to get a look at the robot. SoftBank plans to demonstrate it at other yet-to-be-named stores before starting to sell it here later this year.
Total Retail's Take: Pepper isn't the first robot employed by businesses to interact with consumers. Lowe's Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, Calif. has been testing out the OSHbot, a robot that can greet customers and tell them where to find particular products. San Jose's Savioke has developed Relay, a trash-can-shaped robot designed to provide room service in hotels. And Knightscope's rocket-like K5 robot has been entertaining visitors at Stanford Shopping while patrolling its grounds since late last year. However, Pepper is distinct from those and other robots because it looks, well, human. It will be interesting to see if Pepper's human-like structure makes it more approachable and, therefore, more useful.