“Service robots” start jobs at airports and hotels to combat future ‘labor shortages’

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Panasonic has started testing out its HOSPI service robots at Narita International Airport to help combat what it calls “labor shortages” in the country.

The Dalek-style robots greet customers with a smiley face-on-a-screen and have been put in place by the airport’s operators to clear plates in the lounge area. The ‘droids are also being trialled as waiters in nearby posh hotels.

The HOSPI robot was originally developed to deliver drugs around hospitals and has sophisticated on-board sensors that help it dodge obstacles.

“As we head towards 2020, Japan will welcome more visitors from overseas, and also face labor shortages as the birth rate declines and society ages,” said Ryosuke Murai, a manager at the Robotics Business Promotion Department at Panasonic.

“With our personal care robots, we, at Panasonic, hope to realize a safe, secure lifestyle,” he explained in a marketing video for the robots.

The initial trial will see the robots installed in Narita International’s lounge for five days, during which customers will be asked to answer a questionnaire on the usability of the robot.

The airport operator said that, should the robots prove a success, they could be drafted in to help deal with the influx of visitors for the 2020 Olympics.

“We aim to find services that can be handled by robots to prepare for envisioned labor shortages due to population declines, as well as the expected increase in the number of passengers for the Tokyo Olympics,” an official told Japan News .

Although the robots are years away from possibly appearing on British shores, the threat of automation hangs heavy over the job market.

Mark Carney used a high-profile speech last month to outline some of the stark realities of globalisation and free trade.

The governor of the Bank of England claimed robots and machines could replace 15 million British jobs in the coming decades.

“Every technological revolution mercilessly destroys jobs and livelihoods – and therefore identities – well before the new ones emerge,” he said.

Mr Carney predicted that “middle-class service jobs” will be “hollowed out” by “machine learning and global sourcing”.

He said: “Globalisation is associated with low wages, insecure employment, stateless corporations and striking inequalities.

“For free trade to benefit all requires some redistribution.”

“We need to move towards more inclusive growth where everyone has a stake in globalization.”