This little robot wants to help you shop

Powered by a 'remote brain,' it promises to know when you need help

SoftBank's Pepper robot may still be the better-known contender, but a new humanoid device from Hitachi aims to be the in-store sales rep of the future.

Called EMIEW3, the roughly 3-foot-tall unit can determine when customers need help and then approach them autonomously, Hitachi said on Friday. Using what it calls "remote brain" technology, the company developed the robot with customer service in mind for use in stores and other public venues.

EMIEW3 is actually the latest iteration in a series following Hitachi's introduction of the original EMIEW back in 2005. EMIEW2, announced in 2007, featured capabilities such as the ability to move at a brisk human walking pace and to distinguish the human voice from background noise.

EMIEW2 could also use indoor network cameras as "eyes" to locate objects. Artificial intelligence capabilities made it possible for the device to converse much the way a human would, while a predictive function helped it avoid collisions.

Now, EMIEW3 adds several more important features, including the ability to use network cameras and human movement to identify when someone needs assistance and then approach them to offer help. It can also right itself if knocked over.

The "remote brain" system behind it all consists of a robotics IT platform connected to cloud-based processing technology and a remote operation system to monitor and control multiple robots at various locations. Processing is done centrally, so if one robot fails, restoration instructions can be sent from a remote location to resume services quickly.

Weighing about 33 pounds, EMIEW3 can move as fast as 3.7 miles per hour, which is about three times as fast as Pepper's maximum speed. It will reportedly go on sale in 2018.

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Katherine Noyes

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