03 June 2020 | Intuitive Robots | First article of a series of blog posts about social robots written by  HERA members

ROBOTS AGAINST COVID-19

COVID-19: How can social robots help companies fight the pandemic?

cruzr robot ubtech robotics

Many companies have plans to integrate robots and automation in their long-term strategies, but in this uncertain time, COVID-19 has forced organizations to find new and innovative solutions to fight the pandemic and above all, to protect their employees and customers. Among the recently deployed robots, there are social robots, where their many features have been used in different ways.

As a reminder, a social robot such as Pepper (Softbank Robotics) or Cruzr (UBTECH Robotics), is an autonomous robot that interacts and communicates with humans by following the social behaviours related to its role, including the conversation with humans. In this health context, these robots present many advantages for companies seeking to identify ways to communicate useful and real-time information to customers, while minimizing the risk of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.

Relying on conversation to limit physical contact

Like smart speakers and other virtual assistants, social robots are now able to process human language accurately, understand intentions and provide appropriate responses to their requests. These new functionalities are now accessible to robots thanks to the integration of chatbots, giving them a strong ability to dialogue with humans, in several languages, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Advantages to integrate chatbots in robots are numerous, with machine learning capacities, these new conversational agents can learn from all the conversations (with human help behind the scene) to constantly improve.

That’s for sure, voice interaction with machines will become one of the preferred means of communication, especially in a context where we are moving towards a “contactless” world.

© Photo UBTECH

pepper robot covid-19 pandemic

© Photo REUTERS

Unlimited, useful and valuable use cases

In the context of COVID-19, use cases with social robots must meet a dual objective:

First objective

Regardless of the industry, the robot must inform people about the right behaviors to adopt within public areas:

  • Remind employees and customers of the best practices, barrier gestures, mask wearing and social distancing, all in an interactive and fun way
  • Detect the presence of masks, check if the distances are respected (thanks to the robot’s cameras)
  • Answer visitors’ questions on the reorganization of welcoming areas and customers’ itineraries, including all actions and measures taken by companies

Second objective

To bring a real added value to the use of the robot, its functionalities must be adapted to the field of activity, especially to the organization itself. As an illustration, below some use cases which can be accessible by voice and therefore, limiting repeated contacts with the robot’s tablet/touch screen as well as creating distance with employees.

RETAIL INDUSTRY

➔ Fill customers’ orders before sending them to the human staff (With information system connection)
➔ Provide contactless services such as payment or production recognition (With QR code/ bar code scanning)

➔ Accelerate the shopping experience by helping customers to find the desired products at their locations by navigating/guiding them there, and checking the products availability (database connection)
➔ Customers can request help from the sales team through the robot (Pushed notification, SMS, email alert…)

© Photo UBTECH

HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY

➔ Proceed to checkin/checkout (connection to the hotel information system)
➔ Book and pay for hotel services (reading of the room card, automatic invoice update…)

FAQ to present hotel services and inform about changes during the pandemic
➔ Guide and direct customers to points of interest in the hotel by using the robot’s navigation

© Photo Avatarion – Hotel Opera

HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY

➔ Notify a service or a specific person of the arrival of a patient
➔ Videoconferencing with patients (Robot Avatar)

➔ Detect masks, temperature and social distancing
➔ Pre-diagnosis and questionnaire for more effective patient management

© Photo Brussels University – UZ Brussels

Many uses have yet to be invented…

To conclude, these concrete examples demonstrate the ability of robot manufacturers and software providers to quickly adapt the robot functionalities to meet current challenges, which in times of crisis can be very useful and valuable for many sectors.

Of course, don’t expect robots to simply replace humans at work, they are above all complementary in many tasks, where their assistance in daily operations can be highly valuable, while providing better protection against the virus.

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