From Walmart’s slow dance with robots to Schnucks’ robot rollout to 111 stores to Ahold Delhaize’s in-store AI presence, robots are coming to retail. In the previous three installments of this series, we’ve explored some of the players leading in retail robot technology.
Some, like Brain Corp, are introducing mapping and shelf scanning capabilities to leverage its floor cleaning robot. As few others have surfaced in this field, over time the landscape may dwindle and narrow as mergers and acquisitions start to take hold. Pensa systems is making progress with its drone solution. I like it, but it presents its own set of difficulties and challenges, especially in a crowed retail environment.
There are a handful of major players in robots that have arsenals in their portfolio and coffers big enough to leverage success.
How Close is Retailer-Wide Adoption?
Zippedi appears in a strong position after proving itself in a tough retail environment. If it succeeds in getting to 100s stores over the next year, it will be a contender. Zebra is also one to watch from a long- term perspective. Simbe needs to deliver on the announcements made and rollout at scale in a sizeable number of stores for a retailer. Will it get there before the end of this year? Badger needs some focus and to show it can execute with the insight machine, solving a more complex problem, similarly to what they have accomplished with spill detection. The back-and-forth tugging will continue, but competition is good and will drive differentiation. All players need to think beyond collecting, processing and delivering data.
Lights, Camera, Action
Just when you think you thought of everything, a new reality steps in. I got a glimpse of a new approach to collecting shelf data from a Dallas-based company called SpaceeWith a proprietary shelf mounted tube, one camera travels on a track inside the tube, covering a whole aisle, capturing still images and video, and processing them in near real time. They are able to accomplish all that with a fraction of hardware and implementation cost compared to solely fixed cameras or cameras and sensors mounted on a robot.
I do see cameras as the ultimate solution, once they overcome count and frequency needed. At that time robots need to transition to more challenging tasks like picking and restocking shelves. The time to be working on that solution is now.
Time is of the Essence
One fact that all robot producers need to accept is that their current existence with current capabilities is transitional. The question they all need to ask themselves: What will my robot grow up to be? How can I make the data collected more usable and actionable?
A new surge of approaches in technologies and business models is coming and will put more pressure on decision makers in long-term viability of a robotic solution. Robots need to show a forward- looking roadmap to stay viable and secure a role in the retail store. The solution is not pure technology. It is process, method and human.
Georges Mirza develops retail/CPG market-leading industry changing solutions. He has led the charge and established the roadmap for robotic indoor data collection, image recognition and analytics for retail to address out of stock, inventory levels and compliance. He currently advises companies on how to strategize and prioritize their roadmaps for growth. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter or contact him directly by email.