Robots now welcome in store

Robots are dividing themselves by roles, and in so doing, are emerging as important players in retail, after playing starring roles on YouTube but not really being taken all that seriously. The talking robot receptionist in hotels in Japan is unlikely to be anything other than a curiosity, despite the business case that a machine can give precise instructions while the real humans actually get on and serve customers.

Like chatbots, these internal robots have established themselves in call centres by answering frequent and low-level enquiries, leaving human operatives free to handle interactions that require an actual conversation.

GameStop goes forward

Robotic Process Automation came up a few times. GameStop is using RPA to generate insight, in what was referred to as ‘the ground floor of automation,’ in fact the former CIO, Jeff Donaldson left to set up Intriosity, a consultancy that looks to automate many processes currently managed solely by humans.

Self-propelling robots are also going mainstream. Nick Bertram, president of Giant Foods, talked at NRF about the largest robot deployment in the US. Marty the robot travels along the aisles at Giant Food Stores and talks with customers. After testing, Marty will now be deployed in all 172 stores.

Intel innovates with innovators

And Intel, which has moved past its traditional relationships with large hardware vendors to start working with smaller innovators, such as Pensa, introduced an autonomous drone system that uses Intel’s servers and computer vision technology to navigate the store. The drone can scan shelves to see what’s in and out of stock, and is also trained to spot misplaced or missing items on the shelves.

The system can also predict future out-of-stock items based on the placement of items on the shelves.

Another vendor at the show, Bossa Nova, also uses service robots and AI to automate the collection and analysis of on-shelf inventory data, to manage ordering, streamline inventory management, and improve the omnichannel shopping experience, given the impact that click and collect/BOPIS can have on store inventory.

Fellow Robots was there too, with its NAVii robot, another inventory management machine.

Robots. No fear

Clearly, there is a maturing in how we think about robots now; rather than fearing what they might do to human jobs, we are welcoming into an industry that increasingly depends on automated intelligence to get jobs done that require data analytics.

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