RATP installs ‘first ever’ customer service robot

A version of Pepper the robot will be operating at Gare de Lyon from today

Information about your next metro, tram or bus journey could soon be coming from a robot, after the RATP transport agency installed “Pepper” in the Gare de Lyon, Paris.

From today (Wednesday 13 December), the white humanoid robot will offer information to passengers from a screen it has on its chest, as well as “speaking” itself, in three languages - French, English, and Spanish, explains French news source FranceInfo.

Standing at 1.2m tall, the robot also has lit-up “eyes” and blue, slightly-glowing “ears”, and features a black tablet screen.

Originally created in 2014 and sold in Japan in 2015, he is a design from French robotics company Aldebaran Robotics, which is owned by SoftBank, and was said to be created with the ability to read emotions, and be sociable. He is said to answer questions normally, but with a touch of human-esque humour.

Said to be the first robot operating in customer service publicly in France, he is designed to answer some of passengers’ most frequently-asked questions, including “Where are the toilets?”, “How can I buy a ticket?”, and “How do I get to the train platforms?”.

The Pepper robot has previously been seen and used in France at three Carrefour supermarkets, but this is the first time it has been installed in a transport hub.

 

And yet, RATP has explained that he is still in the testing phase, and is not intended to replace other staff, who will still be on hand to answer customers’ more complex issues.

Officially, Pepper’s testing phase has no end-date set, but staff will be monitoring his usefulness and how much help he is actually bringing to customers. Passenger behaviour will also be monitored, to see if people readily interact with a robot, or if it will take them a while to understand how to use the service.

Customers will be encouraged to ask questions from at least one metre away from the robot, and to not touch him, so as not to risk damaging his circuits or body.

If the test is deemed successful, other “Peppers” could be deployed across the RATP network, notwithstanding any future changes to the set-up, should they be required.

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