Customer service and sales demos just the tip of the iceberg as firm prepares to roll out more automatons into the workforce.
Japan's biggest bank is preparing to unveil robot employees with a human touch.
Nao, a 58cm-tall humanoid developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics – a subsidiary of Japanese telecoms and Internet giant SoftBank – will begin work on a trial basis at one or two branches of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group from April.
Depending on his performance, more robots could appear at other branches in the coming months.
Equipped with a camera on his forehead, Nao is programmed to speak 19 languages. He analyses customers’ emotions from their facial expressions and tone of voice, enabling him to greet customers and ask which services they need.
The 5.4kg robot, “born” in Paris in 2006, lived up to his billing with a faultless interaction with an English-speaking customer during a presentation in Tokyo last week.
“Hello and welcome,” Nao said. “I can tell you about money exchange, ATMs, opening a bank account, or overseas remittance. Which one would you like?“
Mitsubishi UFJ is one of several Japanese firms that are investing in “non-human resources” amid calls by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the country to embark on a “robot revolution” to counter the shrinking workforce and boost growth.
Nestle Japan has announced plans to employ Pepper, another Aldebaran-SoftBank “emotional” robot, to sell its coffee machines at up to 1,000 outlets by the end of this year.
The 120cm android already works as a shop assistant at SoftBank mobile phone outlets in Tokyo – a move chief executive Masayoshi Son described as a “baby step on our dream to make a robot that can understand a person’s feelings, and then autonomously take action”.
Last month, the operator of Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki said its two-storey Henn na (strange) Hotel would be run almost entirely by robots, from its porters to room cleaners and front desk staff, when it opens this summer.
Guests at the futuristic hotel will be given the option of using facial recognition technology to open the door to their room instead of a key. About 10 human employees will work alongside their robotic colleagues.
After ironing out one or two minor glitches, Mitsubishi UFJ believes Nao will be able to handle even the trickiest of customers, and should be in full customer service flow by the time Tokyo experiences an influx of overseas visitors during the 2020 Olympics.
“Robots can supplement services by performing tasks that our human workers can’t, such as 24-hour banking and multilingual communication,” Takuma Nomoto, chief manager of information technology initiatives at the bank, said at the presentation, according to Bloomberg. “Nao is cute and friendly, and I believe our customers will like it.“ – Guardian News & Media