Miss Roboto at your service

They're always on time, never disheveled, and they maintain a consistently pleasant disposition. Could androids be the ideal front-line retail staff of the future?

They’re always on time, never disheveled, and they maintain a consistently pleasant disposition. Could androids be the ideal front-line retail staff of the future?

The Korean Institute for Industrial Technology (KITECH), recently revealed the world’s third android (humanoid robot), named EveR-2. Since she surpasses her predecessors’ abilities, she has naturally been pressed into customer service. (KITECH rolled out EveR-1 in spring 2006, while Japan’s Osaka University unveiled the world’s first android, Actroid, in 2003.)

The newest android can sit, stand, speak, ‘see’ and convey emotion. So far EveR-2 has performed in the Robot World 2006 musical of The Wizard of Oz, and is available to provide info at department stores and museums. She can even offer opinions like: ‘That red dress becomes you.’

But pundits say there’s a long way to go before androids become common in North American retail. ‘Robots have to be intelligent – be able to learn…they also have to be agile,’ says Ilya Vedrashko, emerging media strategist at Boston ad agency Hill Holliday and author of the ad tech blog MIT Advertising Lab. (http://adverlab.blogspot.com).

He says robot technology, retail infrastructure and customer acceptance hinder the progress of retail robots, and says it will be about 20 years before androids reach their full service potential. ‘We need to have enough people not freak out if a robot comes up to them saying: ‘Do you want to try on these jeans?”

TRUE/FALSE

1. Robot builder Kokoro is part of the Hello Kitty/Sanrio world

domination efforts.

2. American restaurant chain Chile’s has pre-ordered 50 androids from Japan to act as novelty hostesses, set to start rolling out in 2008.

3. Korean androids EveR-1 and EveR-2 are named after the biblical first woman, Eve, with an R tagged on for Robot.

4. Female androids are called ‘gynoids.’

5. The National Drama Company of Korea has incorporated roles for EveR-2 into three upcoming plays.

Answers: 1.T; 2.F; 3.T; 4.T; 5.F (at press time, anyway)