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Business

Robots dish out ramen at Tokyo restaurant

AI-based customer service system could find work at retailers too

This robot at a ramen restaurant in Tokyo recognizes registered customers.

TOKYO -- Microsoft Japan and Tokyo-based system developer Headwaters have created a cloud-based artificial intelligence system that allows robots to serve customers in restaurants and retail stores.

The system, launched on Feb. 17, is a combination of Microsoft's Azure, a set of AI-based services including facial recognition and natural language processing, and Headwaters' cloud service, which connects robots to the internet to retrieve information. Robots using the system can recognize customers' faces and talk to them in natural language as they visit outlets.

The two companies conducted feasibility studies at a pub in Tokyo and a gym in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, to see whether the robots can actually improve customer satisfaction.

At a ramen restaurant in Tokyo, where the system has been used on a pilot basis since January, the robot greets customers whose faces are registered in advance through a smartphone app. It issues coupons depending on how frequently the customer visits. The restaurant has decided to fully introduce the system soon.

The system also sends customer information to tablet computers held by human clerks to improve their skills at serving customers, the developers said. The system estimates the customers' age and sex by using its AI. Retailers can use such information combined with sales data to analyze customer behavior and develop new products and services.

Headwaters will be the primary distributor of the system. The company hopes to introduce the system to 200 companies by 2020. The monthly charge for the system starts at 30,000 yen ($264), and various paid options are available.

(Nikkei)

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