Panasonic has created a robot for supermarkets that automatically scans and bags items, doing away with the need for cashiers altogether. Panasonic plans to introduce the machines to supermarkets in Japan starting in 2017.
Self-service checkouts have already diminished the need for human staff in shops, yet the growing push for retail automation from companies like Amazon threaten to do away with their need completely.
Amazon opened its first frictionless convenience store in Seattle earlier this month. Called Amazon Go, the shop lets customers (well, Amazon staff only at the moment) simply take whichever items they need and later charges them automatically from their Amazon account.
Unlike Amazon's system, Panasonic's requires customer pay in-store. The system works by scanning items as they're placed into the basket and tallying up the price. When the customer reaches the checkout, they place their basket on the counter and the items fall from a trap-door into a bag waiting underneath.
The technology is already being trialled in a Lawson convenience store in Osaka near to Panasonic's headquarters. The prototype system requires customers to manually scan each item before placing it into their basket, however the Wall Street Journal reports that this process will be automated by the time the robots go fully operational in February next year.
According to a report from the International Labour Organisation in July, around 137 million workers in south-east Asia could lose their jobs to automation within the next two decades.
While the system could eventually send human clerks packing, Panasonic and Lawson said they didn't plan to get rid of all in-store staff. Yasuyuki Fukui, a Panasonic business-development executive, said it was important to have a human face on-hand for less tech-savvy shoppers.
"We need a good solution also for customers who wouldn't like a completely digitalised system," he said.