Robots Coming To Retail Stores Thanks to IBM’s Watson

1. 9. 16 by Sarah Marquart
Bloomberg Business
Image by Bloomberg Business

IBM’s Watson is finally coming to the consumer! At CES 2016, IBM CEO Ginny Rometty unveiled partnerships with sportswear maker Under Armour, Softbank Robotics’ Pepper, and more. These companies are using Watson’s machine learning algorithms and AI to run intelligent and more personalized apps and other services.

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Watson: Jeopardy Master and Your Personal Trainer

Under Armor plans to use Watson in its fitness and health apps. Their Record app, used as an activity monitor, will now include new AI features to make it into more of a personalized trainer. These include a “just like me” feature which will compare users with anonymized data from other individuals to provide insights about performance. The AI will also make suggestions to the user based on his or her level of activity, sleep, and nutrition data.

“When it comes to digital health and fitness tracking, the past ten years have been about data collection,” said Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO, Under Armour, said in a statement. “We’re now at a point where a shift is occurring and consumers are demanding more from this information.”

Pepper Now Shipping Outside of Japan

Watson isn’t the only robot making its way to consumers. IBM is also working with Japan’s Softbank on the development of Pepper, its new robot that is just starting to ship outside of Japan.

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IBM’s plan is that Watson will actually power Pepper, drawing on a wide range of data sources. IBM wants to give the robots the ability to “understand the world the way humans do — through senses, learning and experience.” This also means that the robot pair will be exploring social media, video, images, and text. 

This Isn’t Science Fiction

Watson-powered robots will be seen first at hotels and retail stores. Initially, IBM imagines their role being more like a kiosk than a sales associate. “Today’s self-service options in retail environments are typically tablets or kiosks, limiting the scope of how truly interactive and intuitive the customer experience can be,” IBM notes. “With a robotic assistant, users can have a natural conversation where their words, as well as gestures and expressions are understood.”

“This is no longer in the world of science fiction,” said Kenichi Yoshida, director of SoftBank Robotics. “There are actually hundreds of Pepper robots in Nestle retail stores and banks in Japan.”

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