Pepper the robot is heading to the airport.
More specifically, the 4-foot high humanoid robot 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.
Anyone who drives on U.S. highways has likely come across an operation of HMSHost, which 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.
I caught up with Jim Schmitz, vice president of innovation at HMSHost, who sees Pepper as an additional way to increase customer engagement.
“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,” Schmitz said.
HMSHost provided the menus and other relevant information to Softbank Robotics, which then customized Pepper for that location.
Pepper already is a big deal in Japan, working in more than 100 stores and in many homes, as I wrote about here earlier this year (Pepper The Robot Looks To Engage Customers).
Pepper 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.
At the airport, one of the challenges of the many restaurants and pubs is to attract travelers to come in, and that’s where Pepper comes in.
“Capturing additional customers would be great for us,” Schmitz said.
There’s also an obvious future marketing play for Peppers, since the robot sports a large and dynamic screen on its front. Through facial recognition, Pepper also can identify some of a person’s characteristics even before a discussion starts.
Schmitz sees a future potential of tapping into that real estate beyond the current menus and directions to add couponing, specials and other offers.
Pepper can actively approach travelers and provide additional services, such their flight and gate information and directions to other airport facilities.
“It’s all about the entertainment and information factor,” said Schmitz.