If your Pizza Hut clerk seems like a robot, you may have stumbled into Singapore and a near future in retail commerce.
Before the end of this year, credit card giant MasterCard will deploy an actual robot in one lucky Pizza Hut location in Singapore that will not only engage with customers, but help them fulfill their pizza cravings by guiding them through a purchase and assisting them in completing a mobile transaction.
MasterCard announced on Tuesday that, by the end of this year, it will launch a personalized shopping and concierge experience that will also serve as the very first commerce application for Softbank Robotic’s Pepper robot.
The experiment “follows our own philosophy that every device is a commerce device,” Tobias Puehse, VP Innovation Management, MasterCard Labs, told Mashable.
Pepper’s new job comes on the heels of news that Softbank Robotics’ (formerly Aldebaran) adorable and emotive 4-foot-tall robot is finally getting an Android SDK and would soon be coming to America.
The best robot
MasterCard chose Pepper because of “its early success in Japan, in terms of being active in a retail environment with various partners,” Puehse said.
The credit card company spent months programming the commerce experience and had to overcome some challenges, like the fact that Pepper doesn’t come equipped with Low Energy Bluetooth or NFC communication abilities. Eventually they settled on placing a Bluetooth LE beacon near Pepper, which connects to the store’s Wi-Fi network — the same one the Pepper robot will be on — and lets the customer connect via Bluetooth.
In practice, Pepper will greet would-be pizza hounds using natural language and cognition, as opposed to interface requests. If you have MasterCard’s MasterPass Wallet application on your phone (Android or iOS), a little Pepper icon will appear in it. If you don’t, Pepper asks you to scan a QR code. Once you’re connected, Pepper will be able to glean your name, as well as your shopping preferences, and might ask you, “Would you like to have your favorite drink again?”
Pepper will guide you through the product selection process, but, according to Puehse, can also handle random questions about, say, the calorie count in pizza. (But, do you really want to know the answer to that?)
One thing Pepper does not do, though, is complete the transaction for you. For the sake of security, MasterCard chose to keep the transaction on your mobile device. Pepper will only know that you are ready to buy that slice, send your phone the order details and, once you’ve bought it, get the transaction-complete notification. Pepper will then tell you where to go pick up your pizza.
Pizza takes time
Because Pepper is a conversational robot and MasterCard designed the interaction to be “human-like,” Puehse said, there won’t necessarily be any efficiency gains from shopping with a robot. The benefit is that, when using Pepper to get that slice of buffalo pizza, there’s no learning curve. Pepper will, in essence, communicate with you just as a highly skilled pizza retail clerk might. It will know the product, respond to questions about it and, perhaps, be a bit more knowledgeable about your pizza desires and needs.
Puehse told Mashable that he can envision a store full of Pepper robotics, each one helping a different customer, but the near-term goal is to “make sure it has all the value that we anticipate it will.” If all goes well, yes, MasterCard wants pizza-selling robots to “proliferate in Asia Pacific and beyond,” Puehse said.
Unfortunately, there’s no timeline for Pepper coming to U.S.-based Pizza Huts. Still, Pepper’s new commerce chops might almost make it worth taking the longest pizza-run in history.