Service kiosks are about to get a lot more personable. Future Robot, the makers of people-friendly robot FURO, just struck it big with an order of over 100 to a buyer in Brazil. The buyer plans to turn his FUROs into an army of mobile billboards, roving around airports and exhibitions offering people basic information services and advertisers an opportunity to, literally, spread the word about their products.
FURO was rolled out this past March in Germany at CeBIT, the information and communications technology (ICT) industry’s premier trade show. According to Korea IT Times, FURO is the first Korean robot released to the European market. Its main purpose is to serve as a moving information desk.
It approaches customers in shopping malls or hotels, politely greeting them with a nod before explaining the resources available to them. Its large, cartoonish head and personality are sure to lure more people than its stationary kiosk cousins. It can see users’ movements and approaches people who appear in search of its services. It hears and comprehends questions and answers in an appropriately ‘human’ way, complete with facial expressions. Its fluency in 30 different languages comes in handy too as exhibitions or museums usher in large international crowds. FURO can also work as a waiter. Customers select items from a display screen menu and order right there with ICC (integrated circuit card), near field communication (NFC), or good old fashioned credit cards. It prints out a receipt and the customer is on his way.
Check out this short clip of FURO at CeBIT. It's very easy to see this helpful and animated robot going places.
The appeal of combining a payment-taking, roving information kiosk with an advertisement display is obvious. Those people stuck at the São Paolo airport while their plane is delayed don’t have to wait for the SkyMall, the SkyMall will come to them.
Future Robot’s CEO, Se-kyong Song, thinks that, when smartphones are replaced, it’ll be by robots. “The key strength of Future Robot, in my opinion, is its HRI [human-robot interaction] technology which is compatible with all other robots,” quotes Korea IT Times. “As Steve Jobs ushered in a new smart society with the convergence of art and technology, I hope that Future Robot will pioneer the new robot age with the convergence of robots and technology.”
The company is certainly trying to do that. They’ve already sold their mobile service bots to China, Japan, France and Brazil and are currently negotiating sales in 20 additional countries. You should probably expect to see a FURO at an airport or exhibition near you. And maybe it will be the public visibility of information (and vendor) robots like FURO that will be first to acclimate people to the idea of robots in their lives and in our homes. One day we’re looking for the robot to buy a newspaper, the next we’ll look for the robot to fetch it.