U.S. developers marketing projects to Chinese buyers have two choices for handling their communication needs: paying for a human translator, or buying a robot that does the same thing.
For the human, costs will vary; they could be paid a salary, or an hourly wage plus benefits, vacation pay, etc. The robot costs about two grand.
Butler 1, a 4 ft. 7 ins. robot produced by Macau-based artificial intelligence company Singou Technology, will be programmed real estate knowledge gathered by the property website Juwai.com.
The machine will be deployed to events, real estate offices and showrooms in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., Malaysia and Singapore to help guide Chinese buyers through purchases.
Although the partnership was designed to improve customer service for international property buyers, the Butler 1 machines can also be sold directly to consumers and used as in-home caretakers for the sick and elderly.
“As for customer service in remote locations, a robot is superior to a fixed device, smart speaker, or smart furniture,” Dr. Hon Chi Tin, chief executive officer of Singou Technology, said in a press release.
“A robot has all the same benefits, plus the great advantage of being able to move and approach people just like another person would.”
Juwai.com, China’s top real estate portal, formed a partnership with Singou earlier this month. Together, they will take all the data and insights collected by the website during the past five years and program it into the Butler 1 platform. The robot also will be able to collect new data once it’s been deployed into the real world.
“This partnership helps Juwai.com achieve two strategic goals: providing better consumer service ourselves and also helping our real estate marketer customers to do the same for the Chinese consumers who visit their offices,” Juwai CEO Carrie Law said.
“Singou’s AI chatbot engine will enable Juwai.com to improve and scale the service we provide to consumers. We will use the AI and chatbot to crunch data, handle basic requests, and speed processing.”
Pilot versions of Butler 1 will be in the U.S. within the next month with full deployment set to follow by the end of this year. A Juwai spokesman said, there could be as many as few hundred here by the end of 2019.
While the idea might sound foreign to the U.S. market, where fears of widespread automation run rampant, China is leaning into the technology.
Between 2010 and 2015, China installed 90,000 industrial robots and it plans to install 160,000 more in the coming year, surpassing totals from the U.S., Europe and the rest of Asia combined.
Aiming to be the outright leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, China believes its AI industry is on pace to surpass a total value of $50 billion within the next seven years. Service robots, such as Butler 1, will play a significant role in this expansion, both in the commercial realm and for private use.
Singou has already deployed robots that can read to children and handle security duties at events, hotels and worksites. While these earlier robots are cost prohibitive for most buyers, Hon said his company felt it was important to make Butler 1 more affordable.
“Our new Butler 1 model of robot is designed to serve consumers and thus be much more approachable and affordable than our existing models,” Hon said.