A Robot Employee

TUI Group is a $20 billion German tourism company. It includes tour operators, 1,600 travel agencies and online portals, six airlines with approximately 150 aircraft, more than 380 hotels, and 16 cruise liners. The company is fully integrated and provides 20 million customers with vacation experiences in 180 regions around the world. In August 2018, TUI Nordic hired Pepper 2E, its first robot employee.[i]

The robot normally goes by the nickname “Pepper” and is indirectly referred to as “he”. Pepper is a semi-humanoid robot, meaning he has an appearance or character resembling a human. The robot is manufactured by SoftBank Robotics. He understands and speaks numerous languages and can understand human emotions. His touch screen enables him to interact and enhance communication by providing visual information. You can see a short video of the $20,000+, 4 foot tall, 62 pound semi-humanoid robot in action on YouTube.[ii]

Pepper will be based in TUI’s Stockholm office and will serve as a Robot Assistant in TUI’s new Data Analytics and Machine Learning team. Alexander Huber, Managing Director of TUI Nordic, was quoted in World Airline News as saying, “Automation, AI and Robotics are important elements of TUI’s future. We already have some of the best specialists in this field and I am excited to see how Pepper 2E will contribute to our team. And most importantly, I hope he sparks curiosity and engagement with all of our TUI Nordic colleagues.”[iii]

Pepper has a detailed job description and a personal set of goals on which he will be evaluated, just like any TUI employee. He will go through the usual steps of onboarding, have a manager, and be part of a team which incorporate him in their day-to-day tasks. For the first few months, Pepper will travel around the building and get to know the company and his human colleagues.

The high-level goal for Pepper is to inspire employees to be curious, innovation, and pioneering. TUI is going through a digital transformation, and Pepper will act as a role model to help employees see the future. Pepper’s more specific responsibility is to act as an assistant to help visitors, customer, and colleagues with everyday questions and problems.

The TUI Pepper is not a one-of-a-kind. Softbank Robotics Europe has sold more than 12,000 Peppers.[iv] Many of these are for testing and evaluation, but cases of multiple Peppers in an organization are growing. More than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan are using Pepper as a new way of welcoming, informing, and amusing their customers.[v] The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. has deployed 25 Peppers, and Carrefour grocery stores in Spain have 14 Peppers guiding shoppers to the right products.[vi]

We are at the beginning of an explosive growth period for robots. The World Robot Conference was held in August 2018 in Beijing, China. The conference showcased a broad range of robots which can do everything from diagnosing diseases to playing badminton. The conference attracted over 166 companies from around the world and displayed more than 500 robotic items which wowed thousands of attendees.[vii]

The fifth book in my Attitude series will be Robot Attitude: How Robots and AI Will Make Our Lives Better. It is too soon to say when it will be available, next summer at the latest (I hope). In the meantime, you will continue to see occasional stories here about robots and AI. If you enjoy any of my stories, please tell your friends to visit johnpatrick.com and click the orange button.

[i] Bruce Drum, “Tui Welcomes Its First Ever Robotic Humanoid Employee,”  World Airline News (2018), http://worldairlinenews.com/2018/08/25/tui-welcomes-its-first-ever-robotic-humanoid-employee/
[ii] “Meet Pepper the Robot | Softbank Robotics,”  YouTube (2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kr05reBxVRs
[iii] “Tui Welcomes Its First Ever Robotic Humanoid Employee”.
[iv] Parmy Olson, “Softbank’s Robotics Business Prepares to Scale Up,”  Forbes (2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2018/05/30/softbank-robotics-business-pepper-boston-dynamics/#58644d5f4b7f
[v] “Who Is Pepper?,”  Softbank Robotics (2018), https://www.softbankrobotics.com/emea/en/robots/pepper
[vi] “Softbank’s Robotics Business Prepares to Scale Up”.
[vii] Shelby Rogers, “Our Favorite Robots from China’s 2018 World Robot Conference,”  Interesting Engineering (2018), https://interestingengineering.com/our-favorite-robots-from-chinas-2018-world-robot-conference

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