This week, Chinese tech company Cheetah Mobile announced the international availability of its FANBOT mobile vending machine robot.
The FANBOT is a squat, self-driving robot that can carry up to 66 different items including snacks, drinks and other goods in its cargo bay. From the FANBOT promotional materials, it looks like there’s a touchscreen for ordering and shoppers can use a mobile phone to pay.
FANBOT drives itself around high-traffic areas such as malls, stores, gyms, hotel lobbies and airports, and will identify and approach potential customers. So, exactly how does FANBOT know whom to approach? According to the press release:
Through its proprietary multi-sensor fusion environment perception system, the FANBOT uses biometric technology, not facial recognition, to identify potential customers by detecting people’s gender, age range and emotions within a 5-meter radius. Once identified, the FANBOT actively approaches the customer to promote products, engage in voice interactions and complete cash-less transactions.
Huh. Interesting. Exactly how FANBOT picks customers and what biometric data it is using wasn’t immediately explained. We reached out to Cheetah Mobile to find out more details. UPDATE: Cheetah Mobile emailed us the following:
Body temperature is one of the key biometric features the robot is looking for. People of different genders and age groups have different body temperatures; and people that are happy and relaxed also have different body temperatures than those who are down and anxious. Voice is another one. The FANBOT can detect the vocal features of different demographics: men, women, seniors, teenagers, children, etc.
The FANBOT’s multi-sensor fusion environment perception system can detect people’s body temperature, voice and other biometric features within a 5-meter radius, and use algorithms to determine whom to approach.
For example, in a high-traffic area, if one man and a family of three are walking around the robot, it will automatically detect the family of three as the more likely potential customers and approach them instead of the man. Or, if the FANBOT carries beauty products, it’s more likely to approach female customers than male.
FANBOT is already in use in China, and the company says that the sales volume is four times that of a stationary vending machine, selling one beverage roughly every 110 seconds.
We seem to be on the cusp of a mobility trend in food vending. Earlier this week, Yo-Kai Express revealed that it is working on a mobile vending machine that will cruise around serving up hot bowls of ramen. And earlier this month, BIB Technologies unveiled the Automato, which is an electric mobile Automat carrying cubbies full of food.
For indoor settings, it doesn’t make sense to put a big, hulking vending machine like Yo-Kai’s on wheels. That would get pretty obtrusive pretty quick. But something the size of FANBOT actually does make a lot of sense. Making small vending more mobile and bringing snacks to people idling in hotel lobbies and such could really catch on.