6 ways robots are replacing cashiers and couriers

Self-checkout was only the beginning. In today's high-tech, mobile-driven world, there's a heightened demand for making purchases quickly and seamlessly. And it's a demand that no human could possibly meet.

This creates an opportunity for robotics. Whether they are taking orders in a restaurant, handling payments or delivering packages, these autonomous machines come in all shapes and sizes — some can even fly.

This item is compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald, David Heun and Michael Moeser. Click the links in each item to read more.

A robot that takes payments, delivers pizza
SoftBank's Pepper robot
The friendliest face of robot-based payment acceptance and order delivery might be Pepper, the humanoid robot developed by SoftBank.

Pepper has been marketed for a variety of use cases, such as accepting Masterpass payments at Pizza Hut locations in Asia in 2016. Pepper's motion sensors allow it to move around a crowded room without bumping into people or things. Its 'humanlike' voice and its perception of humans are designed to bridge the conversational gap that is typical between humans and machines.

More recently, Pepper has made its way into the bank branch at HSBC, where it handles customer service tasks and provides basic information such as weather reports.

But why not payments? In the U.S., security is a bigger issue, SoftBank says.

"We've explored [payments] a few times. I've seen Peppers with chip readers attached to the tablet. It's perfectly capable of it," said Daniel Schofield, a solutions engineer for SoftBank. "We want the most secure Pepper that we can have, so just to keep it compliant, we're not exploring [payments] until the next model."
Segway scoots into package delivery
Segway Loomo Delivery machine
Segway is best known for its high-tech scooters, but the company's technology is finding other purposes. At this year's CES, Segway debuted the Loomo Delivery robot, an autonomous vehicle designed for the last leg of package deliveries.

Described by Engadget as "a mailbox on wheels," the AI-powered robot isn't meant to replace UPS and FedEx trucks. Instead, it is meant to handle deliveries in enclosed spaces like offices or malls.

Segway's concept video for the robot depicts a modular design. The robot can be outfitted with a large compartment for package deliveries (pictured), or with drawers for smaller items such as coffee or meals.
A car with multiple identities
Mercedes-Benz Vision Urbanetic in cargo mode
Taking the modular Loomo Delivery concept to a much bigger scale — or perhaps inspired by Inspector Gadget's transforming police carMercedes-Benz designed an autonomous concept car, Vision Urbanetic, that changes its fundamental structure based on its use case.

The modular design can serve both ride-hailing and order ahead/delivery; the owner would swap out the car's cabin based on the intended use case, which could vary from hour to hour.

The car itself is autonomous. While it can carry a number of passengers or products, it doesn't have room for a driver.
Tesco groceries, delivered by robot
Starship Technologies delivery bot
Starship Technologies' autonomous delivery robot may be small, but it covers a lot of ground.

The company now handles deliveries for Tesco and Co-op shoppers within a two-mile radius of the stores' locations in Milton Keynes in the U.K., The Daily Mail reports.

The limited radius may be due to the robots' speed; though it promises deliveries within 15 minutes, it has a top speed of just four miles per hour.

The robots are monitored remotely to identify problems and deter theft, and they have built-in sensors to prevent collisions with pedestrians and pets.
Doing more with drones
Flytrex drone over Reykjavík
Airborne delivery drones are a major area of investment. Most recently, the Israeli startup Flytrex secured $7.5 billion in Series B financing, led by Benhamou Global Ventures with investment from Btov, according to VentureBeat.

Flytrex operates a golf course delivery system in the U.S., a mail delivery program in Ukraine, and an on-demand service in Iceland's capital city, Reykjavik, the articles tates. Customers use the Flytrex app to place orders and verify delivery.

Separately, Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com operates its own delivery fleet of about 40 drones; and Alibaba's food delivery business, Ele.me, got approval last year to test its own drone system.

But despite this progress, there's a growing backlash against drone deliveries in residential areas — the devices are as loud as chainsaws, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Wing, a sister company of Google, is testing its delivery drones in Australia, where residents have organized a group called Bonython Against Drones, asking local legislators to look into the issue.
Robo-canine couriers? There's logic to it
Continental ANYbotics courier dog
Most autonomous delivery systems have wheels or propellers; the German automotive firm Continental envisions a system with four legs.

Continental is working with ANYbotics to demonstrate a group of doglike delivery robots, which are deployed from an autonomous delivery truck, The Verge reports. The benefit of the four-legged design would be that the robots could scale steps and jump over rocks, ensuring that they could delivery packages to a customer's doorstep.

This concept isn't meant to become reality anytime soon, but other companies are on the same track, the article notes. Boston Dynamics' four-legged SpotMini robot goes on sale this year and could be used for this purpose; as could Cassie, a bipedal robot made by Agility Robotics.
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