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Robot handles chicken orders

Customers at a new digital KFC concept store in Shanghai give their orders to a voice-activated robot.

Dumi the robot is sophisticated enough to handle changes and substitutions in orders.

Dumi is the result of 10 years of research and development into artificial intelligence by Chinese web services company Baidu, which says the robot will appear soon in other real-world environments.

Inside Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center, the KFC store has been designed to be completely digitalised. Called “Original+”, as a reference to the brand’s traditional recipe, it features wireless charging stations where customers can simultaneously stream music. They can also pay for their meals via mobile payment services including Alipay and Baidu Wallet.

Introduced at last year’s Baidu World Congress 2015, Dumi integrates the company’s AI technologies such as voice recognition and intelligent search. The robot will use KFC’s customer behaviour data to gain a better understanding of users’ needs and improve business efficiency.

As well as ordering and paying through Dumi, the customers can see how KFC dishes are made through the robot’s holographic imaging technology.

Baidu VP Wang Haifeng says the robot may become a big part of the company’s application of more AI technology into fields that range from internet financing to driverless cars.

There is only one problem with Dumi, admits Baidu: it has trouble distinguishing between certain dialects and accents. But then again, so might a human employee.

Jason Yu, GM of the consumer research firm Kantar Worldpanel China, describes the Shanghai concept store as “a very interesting experiment”.

“It is expected to generate increased customer experience, and raise efficiency for restaurants. And in turn it is expected to attract more young and middle class customers.”

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