Robovie, developed by the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto, is able to pick out customers who aren’t wearing masks and politely ask them to cover up. It can also intervene when they fail to socially distance while queuing up to pay.
The trial, which began last week at the club shop of Cerezo Osaka, a professional football team, will run until at least the end of the month.
Robovie’s developers, who are behind a host of robotic innovations, hope the experiment will reduce close contact between shoppers and staff, adding that they believe most people will feel less embarrassed by being asked to cover up by a robot than by a fellow human being.
Equipped with pre-loaded information about the shop’s layout, Robovie uses a camera and sensors to observe people’s movements, and lasers to measure the distance between them, according to the Kyodo news agency.
When it isn’t enforcing social distancing and mask wearing – a preventive measure that is generally accepted in Japan – Robovie also guides customers around the shop.
While Japan has avoided the large number of cases and deaths seen in some other countries, a recent rise in daily Covid-19 infections has led to calls for new measures to prevent hospitals from being overrun as winter approaches.
It reported 1,441 new cases on Sunday, slightly down on the record 1,737 infections recorded the previous day, with Tokyo, Osaka and other cities and regions reporting record daily rises over the weekend.
The country has confirmed 119,420 cases and 1,908 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to public broadcaster NHK.
The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has said there are no plans to rethink a subsidised domestic tourism campaign or to declare a second state of emergency.
The northernmost main island of Hokkaido, a popular tourist destination, has reported more than 200 cases for four days in a row, including a cluster of more than a dozen on the nearby island of Rishiri that local people are blaming on visitors using the Go To travel scheme, which subsidises holidays.
A Kyodo poll conducted over the weekend found that 84% of respondents were concerned about the latest outbreak, with more than 68% saying the government should prioritise its public health response over the economy.
Half of those surveyed said they opposed rumoured plans to extend the Go To scheme beyond the end of January.
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