In Pixar’s WALL-E, oversized humans recline on levitating barcaloungers and are dressed, primped, polished, and served, entirely by robots. Fiction? Maybe not, at least according to a wave of media coverage pointing to a dizzying array of service innovations on the horizon.
Look no further than the public debut of Amazon Go, the company’s first cashierless store. Digital imaging technology monitors which items shoppers select from shelves, and when a customer leaves the store, the person’s online account is automatically charged. Down the road in Santa Clara, California, room service robots are being designed that can navigate a hotel’s floor plan and interact digitally with its elevator and phone systems to deliver towels and beverages to guests. Various Silicon Valley startups have deployed robots that make pizzas, craft salads, and assemble artistic bistro sandwiches. In Boston, a robot works with labor nurses to schedule baby deliveries. Waiterless restaurants in China permit customers to order and pay through the WeChat app and feature robot servers that dispatch trays of food to the appropriate tables. In Japan, a robot named “Pepper,” that was conceived in part as a companion for the elderly, has honed its skills in a variety of service roles, ranging from retail assistant, to waiter, to Buddhist priest.