Imagine walking into a store and being greeted by a robot who will not just welcome you with a polite smile but will also fetch items from your shopping list for you, advise you on fashion choices or simply meander through aisles, taking inventory. Sounds like a scene from some science fiction movie? Not really.
Historically, retailers have been incorporating robots and robotics in distribution, warehouses centers and manufacturing units, to assemble, pack and ship orders. For instance, Amazon, which purchased robot maker Kiva for $775 million in 2012.
However, as technology advances, a new generation of robots is graduating from back-end operations and becoming a reality in retail stores, interacting with humans at store fronts, at various international retailers.
Today, some top international retailers have started putting robots on the retail floor. They have either started testing or are in process of testing a new line of robots, developed by various startups, that audit inventory even as they share store aisles with customers.
Here’s a look at five international retailers who are at the forefront of this new development:
11 Best Buy’s Chloe
Last year, Best Buy unveiled a customer service robot, nicknamed Chloe, in a store in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. The device retrieves items such as DVDs and personal electronics from a racked assortment of 15,000 items and delivers them to shoppers in about 30 seconds – even after the store is closed.
The whole process takes place behind a glass wall and it’s controlled by 9 touch-screens. It was developed over several years by the same team of Best Buy techies who brought 200 Best Buy Express vending machines that lurk in airports, in collaboration with PaR Systems, a Minnesota industrial engineering firm.
22 Lowe’s LoweBot
Home improvement chain Lowe’s is in the process of introducing LoweBot, a NAVii autonomous retail service robot by Fellow Robots, in eleven Lowe’s Stores throughout the San Francisco Bay area.
After a successful two-year pilot of OSHbot in its Orchard Supply Hardware store, Lowe’s has realized how beneficial these retail service robots can be for customers and employees alike.
For the customer, LoweBot is able to find products, in multiple languages and effectively navigate the store. As LoweBot helps customers with simple questions, it enables employees to spend more time offering their expertise and specialty knowledge to customers. Furthermore, LoweBot is able to assist with inventory monitoring in real-time, which help detect patterns that will able to guide future business decisions.
33 Mitsukoshi’s humanoid robot, ChihiraAico
Japan’s oldest department store chain Mitsukoshi, last year hired a humanoid robot, ChihiraAico. Clad in an elegant traditional kimono, ChihiraAico — a name that sounds similar to a regular Japanese woman’s name — breaks into a rosy-lipped smile as would-be shoppers approach.
She can smile, sing and she never gets bored with welcoming customers to her upmarket shop. “My name is ChihiraAico. How do you do?” she says in Japanese, blinking and nodding to customers in the foyer of Mitsukoshi, Japan’s oldest department store chain.
The humanoid robot was developed by microwaves-to-power stations conglomerate Toshiba, and unveiled at a tech fair in Japan in the year 2014.
“We are aiming to develop a robot that can gradually do what a human does,” said Hitoshi Tokuda, chief specialist at Toshiba.
“The standard of customer service in this Mitsukoshi flagship store is top quality and this is a great opportunity to see what role our humanoid can play in this kind of environment.”
44 Tesco’s Tag-Reading Robot Robbie
F&F, which is the name of the apparel unit of Tesco, the world’s second-largest retailer by revenue, last year went through a five-store trial for its tag-reading robot in U.K.
Officially called RFspot Pro and nicknamed Robbie by the F&F team, the robots roam the floor, continually scanning tens of thousands of passive UHF EPC Gen2 tags, strolling up the aisles at about one meter/second on three sets of wheels, reading tags from as many as 30 feet away. The robotic system and service was being provided by Silicon Valley technology company RFspot.
The technology is designed to eliminate the mundane task of using a handheld to conduct inventory counts and to instead capture reliable inventory data automatically. The out-of-stock checking process that previously required an average of seven hours can now be completed in approximately 60 minutes without the assistance of a member of staff. This will allow F&F to extract, analyse and understand relevant layers of data and intelligence across each store.
Each machine came with a variety of vision-based sensors that can identify a robot’s location within the store.
55 Target’s Tally
Retail giant target, recently started testing robots that track inventory on its store shelves including shampoo and laundry detergent. Named as Tally, the robot can roll autonomously around the store while scanning products to determine if they have been misplaced, mispriced, or are low in stock.
The robots is created by Simbe Robotics, a Silicon Valley based startup.
Target conducted a one-week trial in August this year at one of its department stores in downtown San Francisco, to see how effectively the robot can work.