Robots in Stores:


Robots are becoming an increasingly common sight in grocery stores and other large shops around the nation. Retailers often tell their customers that the robots are there to monitor for spills, broken glass, and other hazards.

While that is true, it is only part of the story. The real driver behind retail robots is inventory management. It represents the perfect storm of data science, sensors, robotics, and the cloud.

Retail inventory management is tricky, even under the best circumstances, said Jeff Gee, co-founder of Simbe Robotics, a company that has developed an inventory management robot. Stores know when products arrive and when they are sold, but they find it difficult to tally what happens between those two points in time.

At the moment, robots can look for spills, clean floors, check inventory, or direct customers, but no robot can do more than one or two of these things. Still, grocery stores have genuine needs for the functions these service robots offer, providing an early glimpse of how they could eventually help more retailers, even after the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

Below are examples of five robotic systems currently in use at grocery stores:

1. Marty

This grocery store robot, made by Badger Technologies, alerts shoppers to potential hazards such as spills. One article published this year clarified that 172 Giant stores and 325 Stop & Shop locations in the U.S. have used Marty since January 2019 after successful trials.

2. Tally

Giant Eagle and Schnucks use this tall, slender supermarket robot made by Simbe Robotics to monitor shelves. It alerts workers to out-of-stock items or other problems related to merchandise presentation, such as products in the wrong location.

The robot takes a predefined path around a store and transmits the collected data to employees, letting them know when and where to restock goods.

3. Alphabot

Walmart relies on this shopping robot to speed the fulfillment of customers’ online orders. Alphabot, a product manufactured by Alert Innovation, can roll along rails surrounding storage bins containing food and climb up the three-story storage structures.

Once it finds the correct container, the bot removes it and takes it to a human worker who picks out the proper item.

4. Millie

Woolworths, an Australian retailer (not to be confused with the U.S. or U.K. retailers), first brought this robot to grocery stores in Sydney. It is similar to Marty, the hazard-detecting robot described above. However, Millie is a bit more advanced. Instead of merely alerting employees to the spills, it can find and clean them up.

5. SmartSight EMA50

Out-of-stock items can be frustrating for customers who expect to find exactly what they want at their favorite grocery stores. However, periods of high demand such as holidays or labor shortages during quarantines can put stress on staff members and leave shoppers feeling fed up. SmartSight is a supermarket robot that aims to avoid these issues by assisting with inventory management.

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