Sunday, 11 September 2016 20:37

March of the robots as iPhone 7 comes a step closer Featured


There’s something distinctly robotic about the way iPhone devotees have lined up at one store in New Zealand to ensure they are some of the first to snap up the latest offering from Apple – the iPhone 7.

With a week to go before the iPhone 7 can be purchased, on 16 September,  the hundreds of New Zealand hopefuls were relieved of the stress and daily disruption from having to actually line up themselves, with the country’s largest telco Spark bringing in robots to take their place at their Auckland store.

Spark has brought 100 Alpha 1 robots, manufactured by Chinese company UBTECH, to New Zealand, with each one standing in line and specially tagged for each of the customers who have put in orders.

Each robot is paired with a Spark customer and kitted out with a device that lets the customer live-stream into the queue from wherever they are in the lead up to the phone going on sale.

Customers can control the robots’ actions through a smartphone app, even getting them to do press ups, kung Fu, yoga, mimic Olympic sports and even dance to their favourite tune.

And, on launch day, customers who queued in Spark’s Robot Queue will not only get the newest IPhone first, they’ll also get to keep their robot.

“Queuing is an iconic part of new device fan culture,” says Clive Ormerod, general manager customer and marketing for Spark.

“People will camp for days outside stores to get their hands on the latest devices. We thought technology these days is so much more advanced than it used to be, so why shouldn’t our customers have their tech queue for them instead?

“We wanted to give our existing customers an experience of the atmosphere and excitement of the queue, without actually having to line up and wait it out until launch day.

“By having a robot queue for them, they can get on with their lives and still be first to get the newest device.”

One New Zealand iPhone devotee,  Dr Michelle Dickinson, AKA Nanogirl, was introduced to her robot two weeks ago.

“I’ve named him Nanobot,” Dickinson said, “as a nanotechnologist it seemed fitting.”

She says she has been getting Nanobot queue fit, and has been impressed by what he can do.

“He’s great – he’s already programmed to complete movements and tasks, but I’m pushing myself to code him to do even more.”

According to Dickinson, with artificial intelligence and robotics rapidly emerging technologies, this year could be the tipping point for robot zeitgeist, with more and more people using them to help out in homes and businesses.

She says you may have already talked to a robot online without realising it, with many online shopping sites taking advantage of ‘chat bots’, and in Shanghai you can eat at a restaurant run by robots – and in the US, there are stores where lifelike robot "Pepper" greets customers as they enter.

“Many people don’t realise how much robotics are a part of things they consume, from cars to food,” Dickinson said.

“People are adopting robot vacuum cleaners to help with household chores. I think robots will become part of everyday life for more people very soon.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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