Asking someone to put on a mask is a touchy subject, so one shop in Japan has enlisted a robot to make sure its customers wear them and practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but please wear a mask," says the small humanoid machine, the newest staff member of the shop, after wheeling up to a bare-faced shopper, in a demonstration video released by its developers.
"Thank you for understanding," it says when the customer obliges, bowing its rounded white head toward them in thanks.
The robot nicknamed "Robovie" has been deployed on the sales floor of the official store of football team Cerezo Osaka, in an experiment by Kyoto-based Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), which built the electronic clerk.
Its camera and 3D laser scanner can detect when people are not wearing a mask, or standing too close together in the queue – in which case it asks them to move apart.
As well as enforcing social distancing, Robovie can direct customers to the part of the store they want to go to, according to ATR. Robovie's deployment is a trial that started last week and will run at least through the end of the month. It will be extended according to the situation, ATR said.
With around 120,000 reported coronavirus cases and about 2,000 deaths, Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many nations, and people are mostly compliant with requests to wear masks. But authorities are calling for vigilance after a resurgence in cases as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors.
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