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Next up for Alibaba: Robots

BY Marianne Wilson

TOKYO — Alibaba wants to put a robot, specifically one named Pepper, in your home — or store.

The Chinese e-commerce giant and Foxconn Technology Group announced they are each investing $117.8 million in Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank’s robotics unit, SoftBank Robotics Holding Corp. Softbank will own 60% of the joint venture, with Alibaba and Foxconn each holding ownership stakes of 20%.

The three companies  plan to bring SoftBank’s human-like robot, Pepper, to global markets, envisioning it for use across a range of sectors, ranging from healthcare to at home. Pepper is already in use in some stores in Japan, including SoftBank’s mobile phone shops where it welcomes customers. 

The white plastic robot was designed by French robotics company Aldebaran Robotics, a subsidiary of SoftBank. Billed as the “world’s first personal robot with emotions,” it can reportedly recognize human voices and read facial expressions and body language. It can also carry on basic conversations.

"As we enter the data technology era, robotics will become a critical field that catalyzes technological breakthroughs in numerous sectors such as healthcare, public services, research and at home,” said jack Ma, founder and executive chairman, Alibaba Group Holdings. “We are delighted to play an active role in the emerging field of robotics, that with cutting-edge technology and transformative products and services, can positively impact millions of lives.”

SoftBank plan to make the robot available to the public on Saturday.

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Bartell Drugs, Food Lifeline team up to fight hunger

BY Antoinette Alexander

SEATTLE — Regional pharmacy chain Bartell Drugs has announced that it is continuing its tradition of helping to fight hunger in the Puget Sound area with its “Bartell’s Community Food Drive,” a community partnership with Food Lifeline.
 
Now through June 27, Bartell Drugs locations throughout King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are accepting non-perishable food items to replenish local food banks in the summer months when families that normally depend on free or reduced-price school meals may struggle to provide healthy meals at home.
 
Suggested items to purchase for in-store donations include tuna, instant oatmeal, cereals, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, jam, cheese crackers, applesauce and canned fruit. 
 
Last year’s food drive generated more than 5,400 pounds of food donations — the rough equivalent of 4,520 meals.  According to the company, its food drives over the past five years have totaled more than 138,400 pounds of food donations. 
 
“For many families, dealing with food hardship is an ongoing challenge, and the need becomes more acute during the summer months when children are at home and school programs are not available,” Bartell Drugs chairman George Bartell said. “With the support of our customers, we hope to fill a very important need in the communities we serve.”
 
 

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What’s driving Kroger’s 46th straight quarter of positive comps?

BY Michael Johnsen

CINCINNATI — Kroger has posted its 46th consecutive quarter of positive same-store sales results, excluding fuel, with a 5.7% increase.  
 
“Our results show the power of our Customer 1st Strategy,” Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, said. “Our associates are making a difference for our customers by providing excellent service and product quality and selection, and we continue to improve the shopping experience by bringing technology and digital capabilities to our business. Our integration with Vitacost.com is going very well; we are inviting customers in Cincinnati to try ClickList, our order online, pickup at the store solution we are learning from Harris Teeter; and more customers than ever before are engaging with our digital tools.”
 
Kroger generated $33.1 billion in first quarter revenue, representing a slight increase of 0.3%. However, total sales, excluding fuel, increased 6.4% in the first quarter over the same period last year.
 
“Kroger has produced consistently remarkable results for so long that it might be easy for some to take a quarter like this for granted, so it is important to emphasize it is the efforts of our incredible team of associates, connecting with customers, that is driving our success,” McMullen said. “Time and again, we have shown that by taking care of our customers, Kroger is creating sustainable value for our shareholders.”
 
Kroger confirmed its net earnings guidance range of $3.80 to $3.90 per diluted share for fiscal 2015, but raised its identical supermarket sales growth guidance, excluding fuel, to a range of 3.5% to 4.5% for fiscal 2015. The original guidance was 3% to 4%.
 
The company continues to expect capital investments excluding mergers, acquisitions and purchases of leased facilities, to be in the $3 billion to $3.3 billion range for the year.
 
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