Hitachi robot can lend shoppers a helping hand

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Hitachi's EMIEW3 can recognize when customers need help, and then start a conversation

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Hitachi has unveiled the latest iteration of its humanoid customer service robot. Designed to identify and assist customers who look like they need help, EMIEW3 can pass sales information on to other robots, and even stand up if it's knocked over in the hustle and bustle of a sales environment.

Key to EMIEW3's improved skill set is its active nature, which comes from a remotely-located intelligent processing system. By linking its knowledge of human movement patterns with network cameras that cater for environmental recognition, the robot can identify which customers look like they need support and autonomously engage with them.

Once they have approached and engaged with the customer, Hitachi's robots make us of clever voice and language processing technology, using horizontal and vertical direction analysis to efficiently focus on where voice is coming from. This allows voices to be recognized and translated in environments with lots of background chatter.

If a robot makes a sale, or needs to escalate a customer's questions, Hitachi's latest generation software will allow sales-bots to communicate with each other. That means one EMIEW3 could sell you a product before passing your purchase onto a cashier robot, which instantly understands what you're buying. This concept, the idea of a consistent, cohesive customer service experience hasn't quite reached Best Buy yet, but it's nice to see Hitachi dabbling with it.

These functions build on the platform Hitachi created when it launch EMIEW in 2005. Since then, its robots have developed the ability to walk at regular, human pace, isolate a human voice from background noise, identify objects and track down specific objects. Recent improvements made to the latest robot's predecessor, EMIEW2, also gave it the ability to respond to questions and avoid objects that sneak up from its blindspots.

EMIEW3 takes these one step further by being able to stand up if it does take a tumble, although at 15 kg (33 lb) and 90 cm (35 in) tall, we can't imagine you'd have too much difficulty righting a stranded robo-salesperson.

It will be a while before you're buying groceries from EMIEW3, Hitachi doesn't expect it to be ready for consumer consumption until 2018. It is, however, hoping to expand the little robot's reach beyond Japan.

Source: Hitachi

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