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The age of automation is here and it’s growing at a blistering rate. While there’s talk of robots replacing lawyers, automating knowledge work is far harder than manual labour.
As such, we’re seeing huge advances in the retail industry where retailers are keen to drive down the cost of time-intensive manual processes such as inventory, warehouse management and helping customers find the right products.
Here are four examples of automation that are making their way into the retail industry. These are advanced, making self-service checkouts look like yesterday’s news. Some even have cute, human names, and a friendly smile. What’s not to like, right?
Tally the inventory robot
Industry analysts suggest retailers lose billions every year because products are out-of-stock.
Tally uses video analysis to see how many of each product are available and automatically compiles a report that it sends to management on how many of each item are in stock and what needs to be ordered.
It spots misplaced products and checks whether pricing is accurate. The company behind Tally says that the robot can scan every aisle in a small store in about an hour, while large retailers may need several robots.
Kiva, the Amazon warehouse worker bee
Kiva robots automate warehouse environments, unloading and finding the right merchandise at the right time.
Many warehouses have moveable shelf systems, normally called pods.
Kiva robots can identify the right pod where the product is located, find the pod (which often involves tunnelling through the space below other pods so as to find the shortest route), lift the pod into the air so it can be moved and move the pod to where it needs to be.
In busy warehouses, various ‘routes’ exist so that many different Kiva robots can be searching and moving robots in tight spaces without crashing into others.
When battery life is low, they go and charge themselves.
Chloe the helpful product finder
Chloe’s home is Best Buy.
She’s got a smile on her face and an arm that retrieves products from shelves and drops them off with customers that have ordered something via self-service kiosks.
According to CNBC, two of the self-service kiosks are accessible outside normal store operating hours, allowing Best Buy to continue earning revenue without having to employ workers at unsocial hours.
OSHbot the multilingual assistant
OSHbots have been deployed in a couple of Lowe’s stores in California.
They talk to customers in their native language and help them find the products they want.
It’s 5ft tall and looks like something out of Wall-E, with a 3D scanner that helps it identifies human bodies and laser sensors in the base so it doesn’t knock stuff over while on the hunt for products.
There’s a big LCD screen on the back that offers sales promotions and it’s got a host of technologies inside like wireless networking.
If an enquiry is beyond its capacity, it can dial a human employee to talk directly to the customer.