Japan’s population is getting older, which is causing the country’s workforce to shrink. As a result, there’s a lot of pressure to make certain jobs (mostly retail) more automated. This technological integration has already begun in Japan, and two corporate entities are slowly moving to the forefront of this effort.
Panasonic and Lawson food stores – a Japanese convenience store chain, have collaborated on various projects since 2013, and recently began conducting trial runs on their latest product. Known as the “register robot” (regi-robo for short), this automatic checkout system has been designed to take out the tedious aspects of grocery shopping with hopes of providing a more convenient and enjoyable experience in the supermarket. Shoppers are given a shopping basket equipped with sensors that scan RFID tags of selected grocery items.
While shopping, these “smart baskets” accumulate the total costs of your items. Upon arriving at the checkout counter, the shopping basket even automatically bags the shopper’s groceries. Upon completion, the bottom of the basket opens up and drops the groceries into a shopping bag, which can be a time-consuming ordeal for cashiers and baggers at conventional grocery stores.
“If demand is strong enough, we are hoping to come up with ways in which customers will get their purchases settled by just passing through the register,” says Sadanobu Takemasu, president of Lawson Food stores.
The regi-robo is just one of several autonomous cashier systems in Japan, but is the first one where shoppers don’t have to bag their groceries themselves. Taking this manual component out of the equation in grocery stores not only saves on efficiency, but helps supermarkets save on labor costs as well. While some are concerned automated checkout systems like the regi-robo could take jobs away from those of working age, the system seems like a contusive setup for meeting the demands of Japan’s elderly population and dwindling workforce, as mentioned in the beginning of this piece.
“By 2018, around 1.3 million industrial robots will be entering service in factories around the world,” according to a statement from the International Federation of Robotics. “Viewed on a cross-sector basis, the international market value for robotic systems now lies at around 32 billion US dollars.”
According to Panasonic, the company has plans to attach RFID electronic tags to grocery products if this system proves to be successful, instead of barcodes, which would eventually eliminate the need for current scanning methods. Should systems like regi-robo go mainstream, Panasonic says RFID tags could eventually replace barcodes and the roles they currently play like keeping track of sales, inventory, and track product expiration dates.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)