Lo-res_SEG014202-SAlmost invariably, discussions about robots spark fantastic visions of a future in which no one has to do housework anymore, and their daily commute is as easy as plugging in a destination. But the realistic applications of robots are both more detailed and potentially more meaningful in terms of their implications for how consumers access the daily products they buy.

Consider Tally, for example. This prototype robot moves automatically through the aisles of grocery stores, taking pictures and scanning approximately 15,000 items each hour. With this information, it can alert the grocer to misplaced products, unstocked shelves, and messy displays. It also checks prices. Beyond the immediate alerts of problems, Tally uploads and aggregates these data, producing summary reports that grocery retailers can use to adjust their practices and improve their presentations.

Tally has a cute name; another innovation for retailers evokes a different image. Starship Technologies sounds like it belongs on a television screen, but the company is already testing the use of robots that can cover the last leg in the delivery process. These delivery vehicles—about the same size as a mini-refridgerator, with sturdy wheels that enable them to get up and over short flights of stairs—will carry small purchases from a retailer to a customer’s home. They rely on cameras, radar, and location software to navigate, such that most of the time, they are moving without any direct human intervention. Currently being tested in just a few cities, the robots might soon be a common sight on sidewalks around the world.

Thus in the near future, whether consumers prefer to make a visit to their local grocery store or order their supplies for the week online, they are likely to encouter autonomous robots, busy doing their jobs to ensure that products get to the people who want to purchase them.

Discussion Question:

  1. How will new technologies help streamline retail supply chains?

Source: Jim Rock, TechCrunch, January 10, 2016