A 120-centimetre humanoid robot called Pepper has been serving customers on part-time basis at the Citizen Service Point of the City of Tampere. Pepper’s role has been to guide customers to the right service point utilizing the touchscreen on the robot’s chest. Pepper both reads the information aloud and displays it on the screen. People can test their local knowledge in a quiz with Pepper that adds an element of fun to the possible queueing.
Pepper is part of a research project by the Tampere University of Technology. 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.
Researchers 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.
The role of the social robot is to help the customer service staff, not to replace them. The research is carried out in cooperation between the Smart Tampere Programme. 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.