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When your barista becomes robot

Human-robot collaboration at Hyundai Card reveals the future of digitalization at workplace


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(Barista robot Billie at Hyundai Card Card Factory)

(Barista robot Billie at Hyundai Card Card Factory)

If someone describes you as “robotic,” it is not a compliment. It means your actions are unnatural, stiff and even insincere. There are also many concerns surrounding the robot, ranging from “what if the robots take away our jobs” to “what if they outsmart human being and threaten our lives,” Sounds right a dystopian future in a sci-fi movie, right? Indeed, the efforts to create “humanoids” have come a long way and sometimes it made us feel terrified. What if the robots conquer the human beings?

(Humanoid robot Sophia developed by Hanson Robotics/Hanson Robotics)

(Humanoid robot Sophia developed by Hanson Robotics/Hanson Robotics)

What is a robot? Robot refers to “a machine capable of replacing what humans can do by working as programmed without special manipulation.” The advanced AI technology has brought the intelligence of the robots closer to that of human beings. The robot market is also growing at a rapid pace. In its report published last month, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) predicted that the global robot market will nearly double from $43.2 million in 2018 to $85.2 million in 2026. The robot is now everywhere. It searches for the dust to clean the house, beats a human being in the game of Go and provides 24/7 on-call services with chat-bot services.

Robots have already been widely used in various industries. When it comes to manufacturing business, for example, using robots have become commonplace. Adding to that is advanced technology used for smart factory, a place where AI, Internet of things and 3D printing technology are used to make the working process more “intelligent.” The use of collaborative robots has also been expanding. Humans and robots don’t have to work separately anymore. We can focus on high-value tasks by handing over repetitive jobs to the machines. It can improve work efficiency dramatically and create more job opportunities.

Working with 90 robots colleagues

On June 5, a new employee joined Hyundai Card. Born in Germany, its name is “Billie” with an office number of 410713. The place where Billy works is “Factory Café” at Hyundai Card Card Factory in Seoul. He is a barista. Grinding coffee beans without much noise, Billie makes a cup of espresso, Americano and Café Latte. It serves the drinks only a few minutes after the order is being placed. It delivers coffee with excellent taste and aroma every time it receives an order. Sadly, it can’t talk. It can’t say hello to us with a simple greeting, like "have a nice day with a cup of coffee."

(Billie grinds coffee to make espresso)

(Billie grinds coffee to make espresso)

But there is nothing to be puzzled, because Billie is a robot. It is a “robot arm” modeled after the one from a human being. Since it is programmed to brew coffee, it engages in the given task diligently. However, it is much more advanced than a previous version of coffee robots, which are only capable of delivering a cup of coffee with a push button. The secret lies in the “machine learning” technology. Billie’s teacher is an award-winning barista Lee Jong-hoon. Therefore, when Billie is making a cup of coffee, other human workers can spend their time dealing with the customers.

“While Billie is a robot working in the area irrelevant to Hyundai Card's business, it can provide an opportunity for many customers visiting Hyundai Card headquarters to experience the company’s digitalization initiative with a cup of coffee,” said a Hyundai Card spokesperson.

Human-robot collaboration in action

In fact, it was not the first time that Hyundai Card employees have worked with robot colleagues. There are already more than 90 robots deployed here. When Hyundai Card’s Card Factory opened in 2015, 13 robots were introduced for card production. Two years later, a robot room was created to build Robot Process Automation (RPA) system by deploying 30 robots. Now the number of robots has increased to more than 70. Working with robots everyday has become a natural routine for Hyundai Card employees.

(Auto Picking System robots select plastic card plates to produce credit cards/ Bloomberg)

(Auto Picking System robots select plastic card plates to produce credit cards/ Bloomberg)

Plus, they are not the only robots that Hyundai Card is using for its financial business. In Hyundai Card application, chatbot Buddy are on the call 24/7 to respond to the consumers’ requests. It means that even if there were not physical products that the robots can produce, robots can be used in the various industry sectors outside of manufacturing business. Robots have already been penetrated into various places at Hyundai Card workplace to provide better products and services for customers.

Of course, deploying a few robots can lead to full-fledged digital transformation automatically. What is important is that ensuring robots boost work efficiency and achieve seamless collaboration with human beings. In doing so, human workers can adjust to the changes caused by the robots and companies’ digitalization efforts pick up momentum.

“By accepting robots as a colleague, we can reduce the amount of works, which are crucial yet time-consuming,” said a Hyundai Card spokesperson. Requiring. “Now the employees can spend more time on creative projects and consumer communication. They are very satisfied.”

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