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The robots trying to protect shoppers from COVID-19 in Thailand


Tapping his little metal feet on the spotless shining shopping centre floor, K9 the robot is ready for work.

Designed to look like a boxy, black machine dog, previously he had been used to provide entertainment at music concerts.

Now his job is far more serious.

He is one of a team of robots being used by a Thai high-end mall to help keep shoppers safe from COVID-19.

After being closed for almost two months, shopping centres in Bangkok began to reopen last weekend as the country continued to slowly ease its lockdown measures.

For the past two weeks, daily confirmed coronavirus cases have mostly been in single figures, with a total of 56 deaths since the outbreak began.

Wary of a second wave, retail bosses have been instructed to ensure shopping can be safe and malls do not find themselves at the heart of a new cluster – cue the robots!

At Bangkok’s Central World, K9 patrols the ground floor with hand sanitiser strapped to his back, ready to dispense it to any passing shopper.

He is joined by LISA (Live Intelligent Service Assistant), a sleek white machine of around 5ft (1.5m) tall.

The majority of her front is filled with a huge screen with blinking eyes and a smile.

It is her role to travel around the mall helping to direct people to the nearest bathroom and to remind them to wear their mandatory face masks.

ROC (Robot For Care) uses a thermal scanner to take people’s temperatures.

Anyone with a reading higher than 37.5C (95F) is advised to see a medic.

Finishing the pack is Pepper, a little white robot with a human face who displays public health messages on a small screen on his chest.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Central World welcomed more than 100,000 visitors a day – since the reopening this week, that number has dropped by 90%.

To reassure people that it is safe, every visitor has their temperature taken when they arrive, they also have to sign into the mall using an app which will contact them if there is an outbreak.

The process is repeated at individual stores, with shoppers having to scan QR codes as they enter and leave.

Some also provide thin single-use face veils to people trying on clothes.

Messages to remind everyone to social distance are posted at regular intervals, with stickers on the floors, and in front of some shops helping customers to stand two metres apart.

Not every mall in the country will have a pack of robots, but the social distancing, hand sanitiser and temperature checking, now come as standard and are expected to stay.

As the shop assailant commented: “Welcome to the new normal.”

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