A 120-centimetre humanoid robot called Pepper served customers at the Frenckell Service Point of the City of Tampere on two days. Pepper’s role was to guide customers to the right service point.
Customers can select the service they want to have more information about using the touchscreen on the robot’s chest. Pepper both reads the information aloud and displays it on the screen. People can also test their local knowledge in a photographic quiz with Pepper. The quiz adds an element of fun to the service process and the possible queueing time.
Pepper’s visit to Frenckell is part of a research project by the Tampere University of Technology (TUT). The research project examines human–robot interaction and customers’ experience of using services provided by robots. The aim is to find out how social robots could team up with customer service employees, learn to encounter different people and respond to their needs.
We want to identify tasks where the robot could actually be a useful assistant and develop Pepper’s interactive capabilities. Understanding the interaction between humans and robots will also be important in the training of future robotics professionals, says Kirsikka Kaipainen, Postdoctoral Researcher.
The role of the social robot is to help the customer service staff, not to replace them. It will be tested at the service point again in the autumn.
The research is carried out in cooperation between the Smart Tampere program and TUT. The university can collect authentic user experience data from the city’s services, while the city gains information on the applicability and acceptability of robots in customer service and user experiences.
With this research cooperation, we want to offer the residents a chance to develop human-centred technology with us. Could a robot help customers to find the optimal way of using services in the future? Robots could tackle the most common questions, allowing humans to focus on solving more complex issues, says Outi Lehtinen, Project Manager at the Smart Tampere Program.