Pepper, the 4-foot high humanoid robot that already is taking pizza orders and helping retail customers navigate store shelves elsewhere in the world, is joining a global restaurateur to engage with customers as they walk by one of the eateries at the Oakland International Airport. The restaurateur, HMSHost, has teamed with Softbank Robotics America to launch a new pilot program with the humanoid robot starting this week.
Pepper will greet and engage with guests at HMSHost’s Pyramid Ale Taproom, offering menu recommendations, directions to travelers and happily chat with them. If successful, the restaurant company would have the option to introduce Pepper at any of a number of locations throughout the U.S.
HMSHost is part of Autogrill, the world’s largest provider of food and beverage services for travelers. The $3 billion company, with a staff of 37,000, has food and beverage operations at more than 120 airports globally.
HMSHost is the exclusive provider of Starbucks Coffee in airports and motorways in North America, in addition to having partnerships with California Pizza Kitchen, Chili’s Too and Tim Hortons, to name a few.
“We look at four improvements, in general: the speed of service, customer service, entertaining experiences and information, and we see Pepper as adding improvement especially in the last two,” said Jim Schmitz, vice president of innovation at HMSHost.
Pepper already is a big deal in Japan, working in more than 100 stores and in many homes. A model was also in full display at the recent National Retail Federation Big Show in New York, where retailers saw demonstrations of how Pepper could relate with in-store shoppers. Through facial recognition, for instance, Pepper can identify some of a person’s characteristics even before a discussion starts