Today’s Robots aren’t spunky, independent thinkers like R2D2 in Star Wars, and they’re a far cry from the bumbling but lovable metal contraption from Lost in Space, who frantically yelled, “Danger, Will Robinson,” whenever his young charge was in harm’s way.
However, as omnichannel retailing becomes more competitive and customers demand more safety and convenience, encounters with autonomous mobile robots or AMRs will become commonplace. Robots have been used behind the scene for years throughout the supply chain. Robotic arms lift heavy merchandise in warehouses. Amazon’s fulfillment centers use Robots to improve efficiency and safety. Kroeger uses robots and digital technology to manage inventory and meet customer demand.
Improving Inventory Management
At times it seems changes at retail occur at lightning speed. The pressure to be innovative and stay ahead of competitors often means trying new options and rethinking the overall customer experience. Robots are moving from behind the scene and rolling into the aisles and around the sales floor. They can free up workers to attend to more pressing tasks or dedicate more time to servicing customers. Robots are efficient and highly productive resources in terms of managing inventory. In some cases, they photograph every shelf and aisle, digitize the information and use the metrics to identify out-of-stock goods. This detailed, granular data is valuable to retailers who order products and make projections based on customer buying habits.
There is potential for robots to become more active participants in the inventory process by placing actual orders when they detect low inventory levels for specific products. Sounding the alarm in real-time and replenishing supplies quickly will avoid lost sales and disappointed customers.
Assisting with Customer Service
Cleaning up spills and debris is an unpleasant chore that comes with the territory when you are a grocery store worker. However, Giant Food Stores has turned that duty over to “Marty,” an autonomous robot. Lowe’s has introduced “LoweBot” at several of its stores. The robot can assist customers by answering basic questions and can also help monitor inventory. Industries outside of retail are also using robotic technology. Hospitals are using robots to clean and disinfect hallways and to deliver blood samples and lab specimens.
Enhancing Safety and Securing Operations
Retailers are aware that customers will only return to in-store shopping if they feel safe. Shoppers feel vulnerable in parking lots, especially ones that are dark. Physical attacks and carjackings are everyday occurrences. Parking lots should be viewed as an extension of the physical store to give customers peace of mind and make shopping an enjoyable experience.
In June 2019, the Huntington Park California police department hired Knightscope, a developer of advanced physical security technology, to deploy an autonomous security robot (ASR) to monitor criminal activities at a local park. In analyzing the data gathered by the ASR during the one-year following, there was a significant drop in crime and disturbances. In the reporting period ending December 2018, the police department logged 277 entries, and it recorded 249 a year later.
• 46 percent reduction in crime reports
• 68 percent reduction in citations
• 10 percent reduction in calls requesting service
• 27 percent increase in arrests
These security robots are designed to deter crime, detectincidents, and report activities. Knightscope cites several cases where their robots intervened or assisted in facilitating a positive outcome.
• Provided evidence of armed robbery and theft
• Assisted law enforcement by providing video and license plate detection
• Captured close-up footage of an assault
• Helped health care workers feel safer when walking to their cars after dark.
• Used thermal camera to alert security offices about equipment that was overheating
Work in Progress
Although innovative, robots are far from perfect. Technology companies are constantly expanding the capabilities of thesesmart machines to provide solutions to retailers and other organizations in need of their services.