THE future of the global real estate industry could be driven by Mandarin-speaking robots that cost about US$2,000 (RM7,854) in the market.
The 1.4m-tall robots are being developed in a partnership between Chinese international real estate portal Juwai.com and Singou Technology.
Macau-based Singou is developing artificial intelligence (AI) robots named Butler 1 for the global real estate industry and will distribute them starting this month.
Butler 1 is intended to be used by real estate developers and agents who don’t have team members who speak Mandarin, so that they can assist Chinese buyers who come to their offices.
Because it looks friendly and can move and approach customers, it will offer a better experience than other alternatives.
Carrie Law, chief executive officer of Juwai.com, said the robots were not intended to replace agents or salespeople — but to increase the range of buyers that they can serve.
“Imagine yourself as a real estate agent who do not speak Mandarin. What do you do when a Mandarin-speaking buyer comes into your showroom? In the past, you might have lost that buyer. With Butler 1, you can give that buyer a feeling of being welcomed and understood.
“You can learn what they are looking for and what possibilities are there for you to help them. And you can move them towards a transaction if it fits their needs on a property that you are marketing,” she told NST Property.
Law said the robots were also designed to help offices that don’t have a Mandarin speaker.
In offices that do, the robot could assist the receptionist in greeting Mandarin speakers until the Mandarin-speaking agent or salesperson comes, she said.
Law said a huge number of Chinese robots to date are relatively low-tech and stationary, mainly manufacturing robots used in factories and assembly plants.
She said robots like the Butler 1 are service robots, a new stream of robotic technology that until now is most advanced in Japan.
“Service robots are intended to be helpful in interactions with humans and not just to put together car parts, for example,” she added.
Butler 1 in global debut
Law said the first batch of Butler 1 will be deployed for training purposes in Malaysia, Singapore, the United States, Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom in the coming months.
“We haven’t announced yet which companies and partners will be hosting the robots in this initial period. The robots and the AI engine will at first be in basic training, and therefore not at full capacity,” she explained.
Law said this experience will provide further data and inputs to train the AI engine.
According to her, the robots worth about US$2,000 will be available for sale in Malaysia with the numbers depending on demand.
She said the robots will initially be available only to the property industry to assist with customer service.
From there the robots will be made available to homeowners and individuals who prefer to take advantage of their ability to monitor property and at-risk individuals such as the elderly.
“I can’t yet release a specific date when households will be able to acquire the robots,” said Law.
China building more robots
China plans to be the global leader in AI and robotics by 2030 and is investing heavily in the field.
The State Council believes China’s core AI industries should be worth US$50 billion by 2025.
China already has more robots per year than Europe, the US and the rest of Asia combined. It installed 90,000 industrial robots between 2010 and 2015, according to Machine Design magazine.
That is one-third of the world’s total and more than the US, Europe and the rest of Asia combined, which together installed 80,000.
China estimates the International Federation of Robotics will install 160,000 robots next with mostly used in factories, but service robots like Butler 1 are being built in bigger quantities.
Singou Technology has deployed robots to provide security and access control at premises of large facilities, such as convention centres, universities and transit centres.
The company’s robots won an award in November last year at the Shanghai International Service Robot Show.
Meanwhile, Law said the number of Butler 1 robots that will be manufactured each year will depend on demand, but Juwai.com expects several hundreds by end of next year.
She said Singou is working not only with the real estate industry, but with other industries in China and foreign countries to help improve customer service and results.
“If Singou’s vision is realised, and there is no reason it shouldn’t be, the Butler 1 and its successors might one day be found in offices, retail stores, homes and public facilities throughout the world,” said Law.