There’s a lot of talk about how robots will be replacing people and eliminating jobs. Maybe that will happen someday in the future. But, based on what just happened at one retail store, that future is still a ways off.
Fabio — no, not the silky-haired model — is a robot with software developed by scientists at Heriot-Watt University. The idea was to station Fabio at the door of the Edinburgh Margiotta so that he could greet shoppers with high fives, food samples and helpful directions to products. The idea seemed like a no-brainer: a friendly and fun robot with all the answers because it was connected to an unlimited amount of data online.
Poor Fabio. He got fired after only a week. Why? “Unfortunately, Fabio didn’t perform as well as we had hoped,” Luisa Margiotta, the manager of the chain said in this NDTV report. “People seemed to be actually avoiding him.”
So what was the problem? Mashable reports that the robot couldn’t move well enough to direct customers to products and would sometimes give customers incorrect or inadequate information (thanks, Internet!). More disturbingly, Fabio would unexpectedly yell out “hello, gorgeous” or offer up unwanted high fives and even hugs to startled shoppers. The result? A bunch of creeped-out customers.
Don’t worry, Fabio fans. The robot is still in its early days and its manufacturer — SoftBank, a Japanese company — says it already has more than 10,000 similar robots in operation at retail stores, cruise ships and even homes around the world, with plans to ship thousands more in the years to come.
Regardless of SoftBank’s plans, I wouldn’t get too concerned about the robot revolution. If the experience at Margiotta is any indication, businesses will have a long way to go before customers prefer to engage with machines over actual humans. Unless that human is the real-life Fabio, of course.