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Hitachi’s cute new customer service robot seeks out lost customers

Hitachi

Hitachi has unveiled a new humanoid robot designed to spot customers in need of help. The awkwardly named EMIEW3 (it stands for "Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate" and is pronounced "emu") weighs 33 pounds, travels at speeds of up to 3.7 mph, can pick itself up when it falls over, and speaks four languages including English and Chinese. Using cameras and motion sensors, Hitachi says the bot can identify customers who need assistance (perhaps those who are stood still for long periods of time?) and will whiz over to help them. It then connects to Hitachi's cloud platform, which processes their questions and thinks up a response, like "baggage check is over there, meatbag."

The bot's proposed functionality is pretty similar to SoftBank's Pepper, a similarly glossy-looking helper bot that was first unveiled back in 2014. But like Pepper, it's not clear if EMIEW3 is actually all that useful. Customer service bots look spiffy, but they're just not as good as humans at reacting to orders or completing real-world tasks outside of controlled environments. Just this week in China, useless robotic waiters forced the closure of two restaurants where they'd been employed as a gimmick. It's an open question how good EMIEW3 is at actually identifying the people who need help, but we'll have to wait until 2018 to find out, when the bot is scheduled to go on sale.