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Meet the robot that trains employees by acting like an awful customer

Employee Training Robot - Furhat Robotics

Are you trying to train your employees how to answer questions from customers with a variety of different needs? What you’re looking for may well be a slightly creepy robot bust with a swappable face. That “Employee Training Robot” is the work of Stockholm, Sweden-based startup Furhat Robotics. Boasting a wide-angle high-res camera, stereo speakers, and beamforming microphones, the technology aims to fill the niche of an interactive robot for workplace training environments.

By projecting different faces onto its 3D-printed mask, Furhat’s robot can transform itself into a man, woman, child, or even an animal. It can do this while speaking, listening, maintaining eye contact, and even appearing to show emotions to the person it is communicating with. Unusual? Most definitely. Potentially useful? That’s the hope.

“Social simulation is a very interesting category of use cases where a robot can simulate a character in a social interaction in order to teach humans how to get better at a certain task,” Samer Al Moubayed, Furhat Robotics’ CEO, told Digital Trends. “For example, we have a customer in the Netherlands, Rabobank, that is using Furhat to train its employees in being better at giving bad news to customers. You can use the same idea in a number of different scenarios, such as training people to give better customer service or to practice your interviewing technique if you are a job seeker. In each of these examples, the robot [acts] as a tool for humans to rehearse, and get better at whatever task they are trying to accomplish.”

The idea of training an employee by getting them to speak to a robot head sounds unorthodox. But, really, it could turn out to be pretty helpful. In a job where face-to-face interaction with the general public is a regular occurrence, a robot like Furhat’s could help people simulate difficult conversations before possibly having to have them for real. Physicians already use robots to train for medical procedures, members of the military use simulations to get ready for warzone scenarios … why not also use robots for customer service training?

“Another thing that distinguishes Furhat is the powerful SDK that allows developers to create the world’s most advanced applications for social robots,” Al Moubayed continued. “Truly immersive and useful apps are the holy grail of social robotics, and one where we think Furhat will excel.”

The Furhat robot is available and ready to be deployed in the real world. Its cost depends on the job that it is required for.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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