Robots in Retail

We held a breakfast seminar on Omni-Channel 2.0 this Wednesday May 13th at our Stockholm Office. Read Saras’ post on it here. I spoke on how digitalization and automation can come to revolutionize the entire retail industry, and exemplified with what robots are actually used for in retail today. Here’s a quick recap:

Sylvan Goldman invented the shopping cart in 1937 and since then progress on transportation of your goods in-store has been scarce. That is until 2015, now enter Budgee:

But following you around and carrying your stuff is actually the only thing that Budgee does. That might not be all that impressive, it’s easier to let yourself be impressed by the progress that has been made in automation of warehouses. Check out these robots from Kiva Systems (that was acquired by Amazon in 2012).

Amazon is of course implementing this at all their fulfillment centers, and  The GapWalgreensStaplesGilt GroupeOffice DepotCrate & BarrelSaks 5th Avenue are customers since before Amazon took over. In the Kiva system computers are used to keep track of where goods are stored, which route is the fastest to bring those goods to the packer, and how fast that particular packer is, and doing so much more efficient than the human brain possibly could. But still, it is basically a clever forklift.

Well what happens to our goods once they are packed? Well of course, they are delivered by drones. This is a concept video for Amazons current trials of using drones:

Similar experiments are currently performed by Google X in Project Wings, and by DHL delivering medication to German island Juist. Living in downtown Stockholm, I can’t help wondering if they could land on balconies…

So far all examples have been on robots replacing some other kind of machine, but can they actually replace humans? These fellows are currently guarding the Microsoft Silicon Valley office:

In K5, Knightscope has strengthened all the human senses and connected them to a control center where a human decides how to respond to the anomalies that the robot detects, if you ask me this is where robotics start getting really interesting.

Are there any other human interactions we could avoid in retail?

Meet OSHbot:

How about that? To me it does not seem like a cold, de-humanized experience at all, but rather a return to what a visit to a specialty store used to be like, where staff were actually experts on the products they sold, knew what was in stock, and on what shelf to find it.