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East Japan supermarket introduces robot delivery service to save manpower costs

The automated delivery robot is seen in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Mainichi)

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki -- A robot began to deliver items from a supermarket to customers' homes in this eastern Japan city for a limited period starting on May 28 to save manpower costs.

    The automated delivery service was jointly launched by Rakuten Group Inc., Panasonic Holdings Corp. and Seiyu Co., and this is the second such initiative following one in the city of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. The delivery area covers some 1,000 households including in apartment complexes and detached houses within a radius of about 850 meters from Seiyu supermarket's Tsukuba Takezono branch, and the robot delivers items in as fast as 30 minutes after an order is placed. The service is available on Saturdays only until July 30.

    After a customer places an order through Rakuten's special website for smartphones for goods from among more than 2,000 items on sale at the Seiyu supermarket, the robot made by Panasonic delivers them. When the robot approaches the customer's home, it sends a notification text to their smartphone. The customer can then take the items out of the robot after entering a code. A handling fee of 110 yen (about 80 cents) is charged to the customer.

    The robot moves at a speed of up to 4 kilometers per hour, and stops when a sensor detects an obstacle. Additional safety measures include a security worker monitoring the machine.

    In a demonstration conducted on May 26, the robot arrived at a customer's home 15 minutes after leaving the store. Naoko Fujisawa, 44, received items including cat food and meat she purchased, and commented, "The operation was easy. I want to use the service again in the future."

    According to Rakuten, delivery costs are expected to rise as online shopping demand grows. A representative said, "By using robots, we'd like to make deliveries cheap and convenient."

    (Japanese original by Tetsu Miyata, Tsukuba Local Bureau)

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