Retail robot coming to a shop near you

The XYZrobot showing visitors what it can do at Marina Mandarin Hotel yesterday. The retail robot was launched along with 3D desktop printers by Newstead Technologies.
The XYZrobot showing visitors what it can do at Marina Mandarin Hotel yesterday. The retail robot was launched along with 3D desktop printers by Newstead Technologies.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Costing $5m to develop, it can talk, guide shoppers and receive credit card payments

Designed as a sales assistant, this robot can talk, guide shoppers and even receive credit card payments.

In a demonstration yesterday at Marina Mandarin Hotel, the XYZrobot greeted a prospective customer with "It's a pleasure to be at your assistance", told him there was a special promotion on 3D printers, and led him to where the printers were supposed to be.

The robot was even able to moderate its pace to the walk of the shopper.

It was launched yesterday by Singapore consumer electronics retailer Newstead Technologies, ahead of the upcoming PC Show 2017.

The XYZrobots could help retailers save costs, said Mr Sky Chen, 36, general manager of retail and global distribution services at Newstead Technologies.

"This robot does not get sick or need to take leave. So if you calculate the costs of purchasing the robot verses hiring an employee, a shop could easily see how it is worth it."

It is understood to be the first retail robot in Asia which is able to receive payments by credit card.

Each robot can run for about eight hours on a four-hour charge. It will also be able to return to its charging point as often as it needs.

The robot was manufactured by Taiwanese tech firm New Kinpo Group.

Its chief executive officer Simon Shen, 51, said: "Fewer young people (in Singapore) want to do jobs that pay less such as retail. So as our population ages, we must keep up with the manpower shortages."

The idea was conceived three years ago to help cope with manpower shortages and the company invested $5 million to develop it.

Mr Shen said that people ought to be doing jobs that require higher thinking and that robots can fill in the gaps for tasks that require less of a human touch.

But Professor Chen I-Ming of the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in Nanyang Technological University thinks that humans are always needed in certain sectors such as retail.

"Sales is all about persuading people to buy things. You need to use hard sell or soft sell tactics based on the consumer. This is a communication skill that robots simply cannot do as of now."

The XYZrobot will be on display for visitors to engage with at the PC Show 2017, which will be held at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre from June 1- 4.

From August this year, it will be sold in Newstead's Suntec City store for at least $12,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Retail robot coming to a shop near you'. Print Edition | Subscribe