Convenience stores

Robots stocking drinks in convenience stores aim to automate all ‘boring jobs done by humans’

A robot seeks to restore “convenience” in convenience stores by stocking shelves and learning which products are most sought after by customers, placing them in places that are easier to access.

The robot, named TX SCARA, is currently working behind refrigerated shelves in FamilyMarts located in Tokyo, Japan, but Tokyo-based Telexistence, which created the robot, hopes to push the innovation into other jobs.

“We want to automate all the repetitive and boring work done by humans. That’s the direction we’re going. And the best way to do that is by using robots,” said general manager Jin Tomioka.

The TX SCARA robot works, storing drinks in the refrigerated section of a FamilyMart convenience store in Tokyo, Friday, August 26, 2022. The robot can restock shelves with up to 1,000 bottles and cans per day. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama/AP Newsroom)

TX SCARA and its artificial intelligence system, called “GORDON”, know when and where products should be placed to better assist customers, according to Telexistence. The hardware uses Nvidia GPUs and allows remote control over Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing service.

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Once it has scanned and realized a need, the robot then uses clips on the end of its mechanical arms to grab bottles and cans and restock shelves. TX SCARA can restock up to 1,000 bottles and cans per day.

Jin Tomioka next to a TX SCARA

Telexistence CEO Jin Tomioka stands with TX SCARA as he stocks drinks at a FamilyMart convenience store in Tokyo, Friday, August 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama/AP Newsroom)

These types of automated systems are often used in factories, but Telexistence says their applications can also be used in smaller environments such as warehouses and convenience stores.

TX SCARA not only works more affordably than its industrial counterparts, but Tomioka said they can also be used to supplement social needs and are designed to coexist and collaborate with humans.

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Telexistence CEO Jin Tomioka at a FamilyMart

Telexistence CEO Jin Tomioka, left, and FamilyMart general manager Tomohiro Kano at a FamilyMart convenience store in Tokyo on Friday, August 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama/AP Newsroom)

Tomioka’s robots are also specifically designed to meet the needs of a store without major changes to layout or routines.

This ease of use helps Japan’s “conbini,” tiny stores that sell snacks and drinks, especially amid Japan’s labor shortage. Lack of manpower often has employees working on multiple functions, such as running to ends of the store to manage cash registers and restock shelves.

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TX SCARA operates in 300 of the 16,000 FamilyMart stores in Japan. There are another 40,000 conbini in Japan, and Telexistence hopes to operate in the United States, which has about 150,000 convenience stores.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.