Robots: the innovation of Retail
A new technology trend is emerging in the retail industry: robots and autonomous machines are being introduced to perform many tasks. The robots will substitute lower-level jobs, both in maintenance functions and basic inventory functions, in order to manage rising costs.
The world’s largest retailer, Walmart, is carrying thousands of robots on board in nearly 5,000 of its 11,348 stores. According to CNN Business, these robots will wash floors, scan boxes, unload trucks and track shelf inventory, primarily at domestic locations in the United States.
A new unloading robot has already been used at the docks of hundreds of stores, extracting boxes from delivery trucks while automatically scanning and sorting goods. The unloader will be used at more than 1,100 points of sale in the near future.
“Automating certain tasks,” according to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon “gives employees more time to do the work that satisfies them and to interact with customers. Following this logic, the retailer points to robots as a source of increased efficiency, increased sales and reduced employee turnover.
Tests in dozens of markets and hundreds of stores have shown the effectiveness of robots, but how can replacing people with machines really reduce employee turnover?
This statement remains to be seen, but there seems to be strong support for greater profitability through robotics.
Are robots a threat for workers?
“As we evolve, there are some jobs that will disappear,” said Michael Dastugue, Chief Financial Officer of Walmart in the United States. The message is clear: robots remain a valuable resource to replace low-level jobs. The company says that this investment will allow human workers to perform more varied tasks, as robots take jobs that humans don’t want to do anyway.
Profit vs. People
Walmart’s obligation to its people remains strong – if by “people” we mean “shareholders“.
Business considerations are at the center of the transition to the use of new technologies and employees will have to adapt. Consider these statistics in a recent study commissioned by Bossa Nova Robotics. (Full disclosure: Bossa Nova is the manufacturer of inventory evaluation robots at Walmart, and others. With more than $70 million in capital raised, this Carnegie-Mellon-driven venture is revolutionizing retail sales with robots, according to CNBC sources.)
Inventory problems in Retail
Based on responses from 100 retail executives from companies with revenues over $500 million, 99% reported inventory problems. In addition, this survey showed that
- 87% said an inaccurate inventory was responsible for more loss of revenue than theft.
- 92% said that stores spend more time identifying inventory problems than implementing innovative solutions.
- 81% claimed they believe their stores are only maintained or even falling behind, despite the availability of new technologies.
- 76% said the introduction of robots in stores will improve employee productivity.
Indoor Location: the new challenge
Providing indoor location to robots is crucial when they need to autonomously move throughout a complex space. It is even more important if customers are walking throughout a supermarket while the robots move around the aisles.
Precise indoor location becomes a key component for robots: in GPS-denied environments, such as supermarkets and stores, it is necessary to consider alternative technologies for positioning.
Dragonfly, the solution to indoor location problems
At Accuware we have developed Dragonfly, a technology for robots and autonomous vehicles able to provide precise location using just computer vision. Our team has been working with several customers in retail to implement indoor location technologies, and Dragonfly is the state of the art system for similar applications.
Dragonfly is a Visual SLAM technology: unlike other systems, such as LiDARs, it does not require the installation and calibration on board of expensive hardware, nor the presence of multiple sensors for “sensor fusion” computations. Dragonfly simply requires a camera on board and uses the video stream to compute the real time location of the robot: this data can be fed it to the navigation and piloting system.
Dragonfly for your Project
If you need an advanced indoor location technology for your project, or if you would like the advice of our experts, do not hesitate to contact us.
At Accuware we can deliver the right technology for your requirements and we provide consulting services as well, for completely custom projects. Our team will be delighted to speak with you.