The battle wages on between brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. Rates of shoppers opting to purchase products and services online continue to rapidly grow, due to the ease, speed and customized experience on offer. This has been a problem for retailers with physical stores for years, something that has only been exacerbated by the recent pandemic. Unique experiences through innovation can be a key driver to bring customers back into stores and differentiate services from online competition. Here, we take a look at how social robots are playing a role in this retail experience shift.

Humanizing retail with robots

We understand how that sounds… humanizing experiences by using robots? We will come to that shortly. Let’s start off by thinking about how robots are used today in retail — it’s very common to consider the likes of Amazon’s warehouse robots, industrial manufacturing robots, shelf-stacking robots, or perhaps even delivery robots. But how does the concept of a robot that will be the welcoming face that greets you as you walk into your favourite store sound?

Brick-and-mortar retailers have been fighting a battle for survival in the era of online shopping for a while, a struggle…

Lifelong learning and development is becoming increasingly important as jobs and desired skills change quickly. In a world where more and more “hard skills” are handled by machines, practicing and perfecting one’s professional social skills becomes even more essential in order to stay relevant. But finding the opportunity to train and prepare for social contexts and situations can be challenging — we do after all need a counterpart to practice with to make it closer to the real world. Could social robots be part of a new employee training revolution and practice professional, social skills with humans?

Credit: Aagjestudio

In a previous blog, we talked about how social robots can innovate the education and learning industry. But the topic of learning, and training, is much broader than what takes place in schools and universities. It can also apply to a wide range of corporate training and up-skilling. According to research from Statista, the global workplace training industry reached a market size of ~370 billion USD in 2019, with instructor-led classes and online courses being the most common methods to teach skills.

The dependency on human instructors are both costly and time constraining, not to mention the restrictions under Covid-19.

“The adventure of life is to learn” — this was once said by the writer William Arthur Ward, and while maybe not everyone would agree on the adventure aspect, learning new things is a key part of life. Just like any other industry, it’s necessary for the education industry to continue to innovate and be open to new methods of learning — not only to keep students engaged, but also to cater for unexpected circumstances like the current COVID-19 situation, where many students find themselves studying remotely while schools and universities are closed. At Furhat Robotics, we believe that social robots are part of transforming the future education landscape!

Being robot enthusiasts, it comes natural for us to be excited about the idea of social robots to enhance education and learning — but we are not the only ones! According to Research & Market, the educational robot market is estimated to reach USD 1,689 million by 2023, and specifically the adoption of humanoid robots is expected to grow fast. Deployment of robots are already taking place in educational systems out in the world, with kindergarten up to grade 12 being in focus. …

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, with closed borders and holiday plans revised into staycations, it is painfully evident that the tourism sector has been severely affected by the crisis. Global tourism has previously been on the rise, with close to 1.5 billion tourist arrivals in 2019, and although the drop in 2020 is thankfully believed to be temporary it is clear that travelling and tourism will look different in the post-pandemic world. Can social robots be part of the solution?

Due to the pandemic, there is an estimated 850 million — 1.1 billion losses of international tourist arrivals.

Being curious about the topic, not only from a social robotics perspective, but also as an international group with a love of travelling, the team here at Furhat Robotics started to think about how social robots could alleviate the travel situation. Through our partnership with Deutsche Bahn, we are already exploring how social robots can guide travellers at international transportation hubs in various languages and in an efficient, yet friendly way. Although it was not designed with COVID-19 restrictions in mind, unexpected…

Loneliness and social isolation among the general population is swiftly becoming a pandemic of its own during this period of huge uncertainty. During a time when human contact is limited, healthcare practitioners are looking for new and innovative methods of engaging those struggling during these times. In this blog, we’re looking at how social robots can be a solution that will combat loneliness, and provide value beyond the post-COVID era.

The loneliness pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shockwaves across the world due to the lockdowns and imposed restrictions on life as we knew it. At the time of writing in October 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) states there have been nearly 36 million cases, resulting in over 1 million deaths. The fight in the immediacy is to slow the spread of the virus, however there is another major problem that healthcare practitioners are battling, that cannot be cured with a vaccine: social isolation.

Social contact with others, which we are well aware promotes positive mental health, has been taken away from…

The fact that healthcare providers are under high pressure, suffering from a global shortage of medical staff, should not be news to anyone. Earlier this year, WHO estimated that an additional 18 million healthcare workers will be needed by 2030, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic making it painfully clear that we are in desperate need of more skilled (and healthy) healthcare workers. So, how can social robots reduce the workload on over-stretched healthcare providers?

Spending our days thinking about and building robots, it is natural for us at Furhat Robotics to consider what social robots could do for healthcare, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and the new “normal” that will sooner or later arrive. We have already done exciting work on PETRA (Prescreening Experience Through Robot Assessment) together with global pharmaceutical giant Merck, exploring how a robot can increase awareness and early detection of common, yet underdiagnosed, diseases.

But what about relieving the situation within hospitals and especially at primary or urgent care, where patients walk in unscheduled seeking help, comfort and attention…

What are social robots and how will they affect our society? In times of rapid technological advancements, with robots supporting us both with practical and emotional tasks throughout the COVID-19 crisis, that’s a very valid question to ask oneself. How do we define a social robot? What should it look like and be able to do? How does a social robot interact with people? Where do they belong in society and how do they help us?

To help us answer these questions, let’s look back in history a little because dreams and stories of robots have been around for centuries. Already in 1495, Leonardo Da Vinci designed the Robotic Knight aimed for the battlefield and since the late 1860’s robots have started to appear in literature and movies. Many people have grown up watching the adventures of R2D2 and C-3PO in Star Wars, Rosie the robot in The Jetsons, or more recently Ava in Ex Machina. These robots are often portrayed with unrealistic capabilities and “intelligence” compared to where technology is today, sometimes causing unnecessary worry…

A social robot with proper visual articulation will allow us to suspend our disbelief for longer. Yes, of course we logically know that it is merely a machine, but if it looks and acts coherently like a character, we will still allow ourselves to be immersed in non-verbal interaction.

Face-to-face spoken interaction is arguably the most fundamental and efficient form of human communication, difficult to replace with anything else. In today’s world, we can satisfy many of our pure information transactional needs using touch screens and keyboards — or indeed by voice. Currently, we see a surge in voice-based technologies deployed on smart speakers, in cars and on our mobile phones. Disembodied voice assistants work well for short query and command/control style interactions, but in more complex or demanding scenarios (education, elderly care, simulation, training and entertainment) these simple voice-only interactions will fall short.

Similarly, there are certain conversations…

Interaction with a social robot like Furhat is inherently different from interaction with a voice assistant. The difference is similar to that between talking to someone face-to-face in the same room compared to a phone conversation. Most people prefer the former. In fact, we are willing to travel long distances and pay a lot of money to be able to have physical meetings. One way of describing this difference is that physical meetings (either with a human or a robot) are situated. …

You are designing a social robot interaction. You are fighting against the monotone intonation of speech synthesis, against latency in the speech recognition and against the very narrow conversational path you have to lead your users down because “real” AI does not exist yet. How can you avoid your interaction being experienced as slow and flat? How do you make it come to life?

One major part is to figure out who your main interactive agent is. It is easy to make this field blank. You might not even have thought about it, it is plainly “a social robot”. Nothing more.

If your robot is a 2-dimensional, undefined character — a conversation with it will feel flat and uninteresting

Imagine having a conversation with a human who has done nothing, seen nothing, wants nothing and has no particular views on anything. About as fun as having to rugby tackle an angry, drunken football player who has four friends and a running chainsaw.

During a…

Furhat Robotics

Furhat Robotics is a Stockholm-based startup building the world’s most advanced social robotics platform. Visit us at

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