Robots introduced to rail platforms in the UK and Japan
robots introduced to train platforms in the uk and japan
'Pepper' the robot is greeted by Eurostar customers as he joins the team at St Pancras International Station on October 23, 2018 in London, England.

Robots introduced to rail platforms in the UK and Japan

The influx of robots into the workplace tends to conjure images of automated warehouses and monotonous tasks taken over by an army of soulless machines.

But behind the buzz, we often don’t appreciate that robots can take on roles that require more than the ability to keep going without sleep or toilet breaks. Machines are also being hired for positions that entail some level of customer interaction.

This has been exemplified by two emerging stories from Japan and the UK, where robots are stepping onto train platforms for two very different reasons.

Eurostar takes on Pepper robot at St Pancras

High-speed rail operator Eurostar has recruited Pepper, the ’emotion-sensing’ robot from SoftBank Robotics, to help keep passengers entertained and informed on platforms at St Pancras International station in London.

The train company, which connects the UK to cities in mainland Europe, suggests the move represents a first for the British travel industry. The interactive humanoid will give travellers a new – and more child-friendly – way to get information about departures, destinations and Eurostar services.

Eurostar’s head of digital, Perrine Allain, said, “We are always looking for new ways to innovate, and explore technologies that can help enhance the overall customer experience.

“Pepper offers a fun way for customers to find out more about their journey and destination, and we look forward to hearing the feedback from our customers so that we can continue to improve their experience.”

Eurostar has confirmed that Pepper will be located at St. Pancras International for the time being. The robot is expected to move to another of the operator’s destinations in the new year.

Pepper’s introduction may be more about looks than substance, but it marks the start of several innovations Eurostar has in the pipeline. Later this month, the train company plans to launch a skill to work with Amazon’s Alexa assistant, which will enable passengers to connect their devices to their Eurostar accounts.

Alexa will then be able to track travel plans and notify customers about low fares and offers.

Robot security guard to patrol Tokyo station for Olympic Games

Meanwhile, a robotic security guard has been unveiled in Tokyo, Japan. It’s been designed to ease pressures on station staff in the capital with a view to going live at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Perseusbot stands at 167.5 centimetres tall and has been developed by a consortium including the Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Technology Research Institute, Seibu Railway Co, IT firm Nihon Unisy, and AI computer vision developer, Earth Eyes.

The robot will patrol station platforms and combine security camera footage with onboard AI to detect and report suspicious people or objects.

Perseusbot can send alerts to the smartphones of security staff and is being trained to recognise unattended items and ‘aggressive’ movements by travellers.

Earth Eye’s technology has previously been used to detect shoplifters. The company’s website outlines how AI can be used in conjunction with video feeds as a preventative measure, to “detect and notify suspicious behaviour as soon as possible… it shows the deterrent effect of preventing crime in advance.”

However, caution will need to be taken to ensure that prejudice and bias don’t infect the AI’s training data – something that could lead to diplomatic hiccups come the Olympics in 2020.

Internet of Business says

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) recent annual report found the market for professional service robots is smaller, but growing much faster, than that for industrial robots.

According to IFR research, 2017 service robot sales leapt by 85 percent to 109,543 units, up from just 59,269 in 2016. However, the sales value increased by just 39 percent to $6.6 billion.

Within that, the market for ‘public relations’ robots is still very small, found the IFR. Just 10,400 such devices were sold in 2017. That’s 56 percent more than in 2016, but still a small number worldwide.

The vast majority of these (10,043 units) were telepresence machines, or robots for mobile guidance and information in shops and museums, up from 6,388 in 2016.

For more on this, see this separate external report.

Additional reporting: Chris Middleton.