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Panasonic introduces robotic checkout at a grocery store in Osaka

Regirobo, invented by Panasonic and Lawson, basically does everything apart from choosing the goods you want to buy. It automatically calculates the bill and even bags the purchased goods.
Asahi Shimbun | Getty Images
Regirobo, invented by Panasonic and Lawson, basically does everything apart from choosing the goods you want to buy. It automatically calculates the bill and even bags the purchased goods.

Instead of a smile and a greeting at the checkout counter, shoppers may soon be dealing with a robot.

Meet "Reji Robo" — short for register robots — a new automated checkout system that scans and bags groceries, and was unveiled Monday by Japanese electronics giant Panasonic.

Reji Robo syncs to a computerized shopping basket with a bar code reader attached. Customers can scan merchandise to keep track of their purchases.

The shopping basket has a sliding bottom, and when placed on Reji Robo the bottom opens. The items then gently drop into a plastic bag while the customers pay using cash or a card.

Panasonic teamed up with convenience store chain Lawson to test out the unmanned cashier concept, which it claims can cut labor costs by 10 percent while speeding up the checkout process for customers, according to the Japan's Nikkei newspaper.

The company is currently piloting the system at a Lawson outlet in Osaka, Japan, where Panasonic is headquartered.

For now, shoppers using the robotic baskets must manually scan their purchases. But by February, Panasonic aims to fit each item in the store with an electronic tag. That way, customers will be able to walk into a store, place the items they want into the basket, then head to the robotic station where they simply pay and go.

If successful, the electronics maker aims to introduce the system in more than 10 stores next fiscal year, and nationwide by 2018.

The system "could bring a revolution to the broader retailing industry," Lawson President and COO Sadanobu Takemasu told the told The Wall Street Journal. "We all face a scarcity of labor."

Self-service checkout kiosks have been around for years globally, but a growing number of companies have been pushing to advance retail automation.

Last week, Amazon revealed its new retail concept, promising no checkout lines. The e-commerce giant's latest innovation, dubbed Amazon Go, allows customers to grab food off the shelves and exit the store. Instead of waiting in line to check out, the items get charged to the user's Amazon.com account.

For most Americans, paying for groceries through an online account is an appealing feature of an automated store. But in other countries including Japan, where using cash is still widely preferred, Panasonic's take could come out on top.