|Robots are better at knowing when products will go out of stock / Photo Credit: Montri Nipitvittaya (via Shutterstock)|
The refrain “Let the robots do what they do best, and free up human employees to do what they do best” was heard repeatedly at the National Retail Federation (NRF) 2020, wrote Joan Verdon of business website Forbes. The retail industry decided that robots are better in knowing when bottles of shampoo are out-of-stock or cans of soup placed in the wrong, as well as monitoring when store shelves need to be replaced. A sign that shelf-scanning robots and other automated inventory tracking systems were coming when Walmart announced that it is expanding its use of shelf-scanning robots to 650 of its stores, bringing the number to 1,000.
The good news gave robotics and retail and tech company Bossa Nova a boost at the show, where it was showcasing its robots. The company is currently supplying Walmart’s robots. There were also other companies that showed their versions of scanning robots such as Badger Technologies, a division of tech firm Jabil, and Savioke, which partnered with Brain Corp. to implement shelf-scanning capabilities to its floor cleaning and hospitality robots. Meanwhile, Gartner.ai demonstrated an inventory-counting, camera-equipped drone built for scanning boxes on warehouse shelves. More exhibitors displayed automated shelf-scanning systems that use cameras installed on shelves to monitor inventory levels along with software that analyzes data collected by the cameras to notify store employees when shelves need to be restocked.
In an interview at the retail show, Sarjoun Skaff, founder and CEO of Bossa Nova, said retailers like Walmart are welcoming robots with open arms because it addresses stocking problems that retailers have endured for decades. He explained, “Instead of spending time on your schedule looking for problems, you can start fixing them. You become data driven.” But how about restocking shelves? Skaff said humans are better at restocking shelves than robots. “In restocking a shelf, it would be competing with a human and a human is uncannily good at picking and placing,” he added.
The US’s largest retailers spoke about their plans to use robots, AI, computer vision, and machine learning to let humans do what they do best and connect with their customers.