Robotics in retail

Robotics in retail

Whether robots are taking over people’s lives and jobs with technology like artificial intelligence and virtual reality has been a fierce debate for decades. The good news is, bots don’t only bring trouble and turmoil. In fact, they can be essential tools for businesses and consumers alike.

From transforming retail environments and augmenting manual labor—especially in situations that are highly repetitive or stationary—to being applied to education or acting as personal assistants, there is a bright future for consumer and business robots.

Robots make the retail experience dynamic and whimsical

Can robots enhance the spirit of Christmas? Bloomingdale’s believes so. ABB, a Swiss-Swedish corporation operating mainly in robotics and automation technology with creative partner andyRobot, used human-robot interaction at Bloomingdale’s to engage shoppers through a unique visual experience and to explore how robotics could be applied in a retail environment.

As part of the holiday celebration, the retailer’s 59th Street store in New York City engaged the help of 12 ABB robots. In one store window, four ABB robots decorated a Christmas tree with golden ornaments, while another band of four ABB IRB 1200 robots played brass shakers, a tambourine, a concert chime and a futuristic digital xylophone to entertain Bloomingdale’s shoppers with Christmas carols.

The third display was a RoboScreen Christmas carol karaoke window, offering shoppers a range of holiday songs that they could perform. When the singing shoppers pressed a button on the window, pictures of them appeared on a video monitor behind the robot band inside the window display.

The best part of the robot retail experience was waiting inside, where ABB’s dual-arm collaborative YuMi robot demonstrated the latest Nespresso experience by serving shoppers their choice of coffee drinks.

Helping system integrators help retailers

Retailers have a tough time on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Orders come pouring in, with an enormous amount of packages to handle in a short period of time, which requires their full-time employees to take on extra hours of work.

One way for warehouses and supply-chain distribution centers around the world to better prepare for this busy period is getting help from autonomous mobile robots. Industrial robots can work collaboratively with employees to increase productivity. They minimize the time and energy employees spend walking, and speed up warehouse tasks, including put-away, picking, replenishment, and sorting.

Osaro, an industrial-grade AI software company specializing in vision and control systems for robots, works with system integrators to help their customers get ready for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday rush. The company’s Osaro Pick software automates the process of picking and placing products via a vision API that recognizes difficult products and features a user interface for picking metrics and parameter settings.

No more “dirty jobs”: Consumer interest in robots

When it comes to dealing with “dirty, dull, and dangerous” tasks, many people would love to hand over their household chores to home robots. A study of 2,000 Americans examined people’s attitudes toward chores such as laundry, car washing, raking leaves, and taking out the trash in relation to technology. It revealed that almost three quarters of respondents think their homes would be cleaner if they had robots doing their chores.

It is no wonder that to date, the most purchased category of consumer robots is vacuuming robots. Cyber Monday 2019 was the single biggest shopping day in Amazon’s history, with the iRobot Roomba 675 robot vacuum among its top sellers in smart home items.

Nevertheless, another U.S. consumer survey on the interest in purchasing home robots revealed that nearly 45% had no interest at all. Low percentages were also recorded for customers’ interest in smart-assistant-enabled robots, security robots, and child- and elder-care robots. Privacy is most likely one of the key concerns for many consumers, especially in light of so many data breaches and advertising companies’ illegal usage of consumer data.

2020 predictions

As a market, consumer robotics has suffered greatly, with multiple insolvencies taking their toll. Anki, Jibo, and Kuri have all failed, despite large funding rounds and appealing devices. Clearly, the sector’s biggest shortcoming has been that it does not generate repeat revenue, since it has traditionally operated on a highly transactional model.

A lack of recurring revenue has led to problems in the market. However, subscription models, a model in which a customer has to pay a recurring amount of money at regular intervals to access a product or service, offer a way out. As a result, according to Juniper Research, manufacturers will surely look into subscription models to change their fortunes in 2020.