Are You Ready For This Disruptive Technology?
On Monday we explored the future of the fast food industry once robotics and automation is in full swing…
But edibles aren’t the only facet of retail being transformed by a new generation of automated intelligence…
Smart devices are also at work from the loading dock to the showroom.
Midea, a Chinese appliances company, sees a big future for robotics on the production line. In July, it became the largest shareholder of Kuka, German robotic company that produces robotic systems for a wide range of production line tasks.
Perry Kramer, vice president of the Boston Retail Partners consulting firm, sees heavy investments in warehouse automation.
Showroom tech will follow while customers become used to robots that recognize them by name, know their purchase preferences and lead shoppers to their usual products. The retail workforce will shrink in number, Kramer says, but will be paid better for the required technical expertise workers will need to keep the digital showrooms running smoothly.
Glimpsing that future, Google in recent years has bought seven robotics companies with specialties in gripping, lifting and moving things.
Staples, The Gap and other retail chains already rely on sophisticated robot integration in their warehouses.
Take a look at Amazon’s distribution centers. Instead of humans wandering aisles picking up a book here and an electric toothbrush there, robots are doing the lifting and sorting. They hoist racks of goods containing products, order and trundle them to the person packing the shipment, who then selects the needed items.
What took hours of person-time now happens in minutes.
Not satisfied with its army of more than 30,000 robots, Amazon in 2015 sponsored its “Amazon Picking Challenge.” It offered $25,000 for the robot best able to pick individual items out of bins on a warehouse shelf — one of the last remaining tasks humans do in company warehouses.
Although contestants failed miserably in their attempts to beat humans’ order-picking time, recent advances have brought nimble-fingered bots within striking distance of typical human speeds.
Retail Robot Boom
Smart robots also are entering stores’ showrooms.
Lowe’s Home Improvement Centers has taken the next step by introducing its “OSHbot” floor-walker robots in select stores.
Using facial recognition software, OSHbot spots a human customer, rolls up, introduces itself and asks how it can help. The customer could say, “I need a light bulb,” and a screen mounted on OSHbot’s chest will display a list of options. The customer presses the item of choice and OSHbot leads the customer to the item.
If you need more nails like the one you brought with you, OSHbot can scan the item, identify it and take you to it.
But that’s just the beginning…
Hointer, a Seattle-based clothing store founded by Amazon’s former head of supply-chain technology, is thinking beyond individual carts and kiosks. Based on the theory that men don’t like to shop, the store uses artificial intelligence to speed the entire experience.
The customer downloads the Hointer app to a smartphone. He selects from items displayed in the store, chooses the size and color, and robots deliver the selections to a fitting room within 30 seconds.
It gets easier. In the near future, you won’t even have to carry your own bags!
Your purchases can be brought to your car door by a smart cart from Starship Technologies, an Estonia tech firm.
Its delivery carts use cameras and GPS systems to find you. Your purchases — groceries, a prescription, baby formula — are locked in a compartment that can be opened with a code the store sends to your smartphone.
Starship’s cart is a form of personal assistant, perhaps the fastest-growing market for robots for consumers.
This carry-and-deliver system will be a big hit among the aging population.
In fact, it will be a global trend.
Till next time,