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Lawson to install human-controlled digital avatars at stores
Lawson plans to introduce digital avatars at register monitors that are controlled remotely by real humans at over 200 stores in the next three years.
The digital avatars will start showing up at a few Lawson stores as part of a trial phase at the end of November using a system created by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University.
Over the next three years, if all goes as planned, the plan is to install them at more than 200 locations. In preparation for the start of the trial phase, the company is actively hiring employees to operate the avatars.
The key selling point of this system is the ability to remotely manipulate digital avatars from a computer, camera, and microphone at home. No need to bring specialized equipment into an office.
From the comfort of their homes, employees will be able to assist customers with questions, give directions to where to find things, and demonstrate how to utilize self-checkout registers.
Avatars at many store locations will also be under the authority of a single individual simultaneously.
According to Lawson CEO Sadanobu Takemasu, the company is actively working on developing the technology such that each avatar emanates warmth like a real person rather than merely being a chilly, robotic depiction of a human.
It is a way for Lawson to address the ongoing labor shortage in Japan. Many convenience stores across Japan tried to tackle the problem by hiring more foreign workers or even robot operators.