A fleet of self-driving robots from the French company Fybots will be scrubbing floors at select Ahold Delhaize stores as one of two winning companies in a worldwide competition for autonomous cleaning solutions held by the Dutch retailer.
Ahold Delhaize earlier this year announced a “cleaning bot challenge” through its AI for Retail Lab (AIRLab), a partnership of the retailer and the Dutch university TU Delft exploring technical innovations in retail. Ahold Delhaize said it scouted more than 380 partners and received final applications from 36 companies including startups and scaling-up technology firms. Of those, nine were invited to pitch before of panel of Ahold Delhaize’s leadership, development and sourcing teams including CEO Frans Muller and Chief Digital Officer Farhan Siddiqi.
Adlatus, a robotics company based in Germany, was also selected as a winner, and will partner with AIRLabs in co-developing new applications of its robotics technology with Ahold Delhaize.
Ahhold Delhaize established AIRLab in 2018. The retailer said the cleaning bot challenge underscored its ambition to help create the future of retail.
“Smart technology, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, offers countless possibilities for the retail industry, the consumer, and society at large,’’ said Frans Muller, president and CEO of Ahold Delhaize. ‘’With this challenge, we wanted to further develop our ongoing initiatives and explore how our great local brands and support offices can use this technology to better support associates and serve customers. I was impressed by the quality of the pitches and the innovation behind the solutions.’’
The competition placed contestants in two tracks. In the first track, contestants pitched directly applicable cleaning solutions. The winner of that track, Fybots, was selected because of the flexibility of its autonomous solution, the company said.
The second track focused on promising future technologies that can be co-developed. Adlatus won this track on the strength of the company’s technical capability.
Retailers have been exploring autonomous cleaners for some time, seeking labor efficiencies and liability benefits. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought store cleanliness to the forefront.
“A clean environment for associates and customers is now more important than ever,” Muller said. “Cleaning tasks are often physically demanding and include repetitive tasks. Increased cleaning cycles, due to the corona pandemic, have put our teams under a lot of pressure. Robotics can help associates with these repetitive tasks, and by reducing their time spent cleaning, associates can focus on tasks where they make an even greater difference.’’