Forget about the film. I’m going for hot dog machine.

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Forget about the film. I’m going for hot dog machine.

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From left: A customer collects a beverage from the pick-up box at CGV Yeouido in western Seoul. A “Checkbot” checks tickets for customers. [CGV]

Care to sit in a room packed with hundreds of people sitting elbow to elbow for a couple hours? These days, probably not.

But at CGV’s Yeouido branch inside the IFC Mall, western Seoul, that pandemic horror is not playing.

The multiplex is trying to make the moviegoing experience much less dangerous in terms of catching an infection from a fellow cinephile or from an usher.

It is pioneering movie theaters that require minimum contact with others. It is working toward an experience that is “untact,” a popular term adopted in Korea to describe products and services delivered at a distance or in a way that avoids contact.

“Given Covid-19, ‘untact’ technology has become a necessity for customer safety, regardless of industry. There’s also been an increase of customers who prefer automated services - this is something we believe will eventually become a new norm,” said Oh Dae-sick, leader of CGV’s smart innovation team.

Consider the pick-up box.

A customer can order from a kiosk or by using a mobile app, and they will get a QR code. Their refreshments are prepared and then put in the box, which can be opened by the customer with the right code.

No direct contact. A lower risk of infection.

Then, there’s the “Popcorn Factory Self-bar” with vending machines that provide popcorn, hot dogs and beverages.

Hot dogs are kept at the optimal temperature and humidity and are discarded every two to three hours. The popcorn machine was a second version upgraded with customer feedback during its test run.

“A big task for the popcorn machine was ensuring that the exact same amount is served each time. Popcorn comes in different sizes and shapes and tends to cling to form big chunks - it’s hard to maintain the same weight,” said Lee Jung-woo, manager of the smart solution team at CGV.

The tasks performed at the snack self-bar would have been handled by more than 30 humans over a weekend. Five to six people are now working in the lobby, mostly preparing food for the machines. CGV notes that it’s hard to know how much humans have been replaced as head count has been reduced overall due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ticket taking is now done by “Checkbots.”

Equipped with a big rectangular screen on its belly and a small screen on top for its eyes, these 1.5-meter-tall (5-foot) self-driving robots wander around the floor to inform customers of promotions or answer questions about locations or movie schedules.

Before the movie starts, it drives itself to the front door to scan tickets. If you’re not in the right theater, the robot will tell you.

From the customer’s perspective, checking tickets may seem like a simple job. But the amount of information a worker has to scan in a few seconds is not small - the title of the film, the branch, date and the theater. A robot not only reduces time but also increases accuracy, especially when hundreds of customers flood in to have their tickets checked, the company said.

According to Oh, all technologies in use underwent between one and two years of research and planning.

“The Yeouido branch is like our incubator to test smart technologies,” he said.

“We start here, but our goal is to expand it to all of our domestic branches and one day export them as a multiplex package.”

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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