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Indian Textile Shop Finds Creative Use for Interactive Robot

Businesses have taken all sorts of measures to keep their stores, facilities, employees and shoppers alike safe from the coronavirus outbreak, whether through implementing coronavirus-based social-distancing measures or constantly washing and disinfecting areas where a cluster of people would typically congregate.

Pothys, a chain of 13 textile showrooms in India that sells pure silk and designer sarees is taking a creative approach to COVID-protection measures, introducing a saree-wearing robot mannequin that carries hand sanitizer within the premises of its Madurai location.

The robot is on double duty, offering the omnipresent disinfecting agent to customers while showcasing the shop’s colorful sarees. With the sanitizer in the mannequin’s left hand, shoppers can simply put their hand out under the container, where it will automatically dispense the sanitizer so that shoppers don’t have to worry about touching a handle or pressing a button.

The mannequin is fitted with a sensor designed to identify whether a visitor is nearby so it can navigate in their direction. A small screen in the mannequin’s right hand displays information on the importance of social distancing.

The robot gained publicity when Indian entrepreneur Harsh Goenka shared a video on Twitter posted by the user @makma_twit on July 19. The video shows the robot mannequin as the center of attention for Pothys shoppers, with many taking pictures of the endearing automaton.

The example shows where robotics as a whole may have a greater fit within apparel, particularly in the current environment where stores need to give shoppers every bit of confidence that they are shopping safely. The technology is starting to see more adoption on the back end—Gap, for example, tripled its fleet of Kindred SORT robotics systems to 106 across its distribution centers. And robotics providers like Covariant, Geek+ and Locus Robotics have collectively raised tens of millions of dollars since May, showing that there is plenty of anticipation that the technology will continue to find new opportunities in the sector.

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In a series of studies published in April, MIT economists found that robotics are most prevalent in four manufacturing industries, none of which is apparel.

Now, with more retailers mandating masks within the store environment, the idea of an in-store robot assistant replacing human tasks doesn’t sound as futuristic as it once did, in light of the unanimous focus on limiting human-to-human contact. It could potentially provide assistance elsewhere, whether through cleaning and sanitizing clothing, stocking shelves or providing directions to a shopper looking for a specific product.

According to Euromonitor International’s 2020 Digital Consumer Survey of 20,000 global consumers, of among five scenarios provided, consumers are more comfortable with robots guiding them to products in a store aisle (45 percent), ahead of other categories including receiving a delivery from a drone, helping with hotel check-in and room service, granting them access to trusted places to make a delivery and preparing an entire meal while dining at a restaurants.

As more consumers get comfortable with the idea of robots strolling through the store, retailers may be able to capitalize if they can effectively use them to carry out their post COVID-19 strategies.