Artificial intelligence, in the form of humanoid robots, could be about to take the retail industry by storm. The trend is only just emerging but the innovation capabilities of robotics could mean that service robots will soon be more than just amusing gadgets in supermarkets.
“Create a new customer experience:” this is what service robots aim to do for stores, according to a report by Roland Berger. Robotics has already been used in the logistics field for distribution, order-picking and inventory management, and is also being tested for last-mile delivery or analysing in-store traffic.
Hospitality is the next stage. Android models are being tested and perceived by clients as a major asset for reception and, ultimately, for providing product information, guiding consumers in their choices – a technological challenge that will make service robots invaluable, according to a report by Roland Berger called Robots and retail: what does the future hold for people and robots in the stores of tomorrow?
Service robots as a whole is a very promising market, particularly in Europe, with an estimated annual growth rate of 11% between now and 2025. In Japan, for example, SoftBanks/Aldebaran Robotics’ robot Pepper can already be found at thousands of stores, although humanoids in retail “has not yet reached the deployment phase, but is at an advanced prototyping stage,” as the Chairwoman of robotics fair Innorobo puts it. But the latest models to be developed and tested have demonstrated their potential. We had a look at two of these: wiiGo and HEASY.
wiiGo: the robot that carries your groceries
Designed by Follow Inspiration, a Portuguese startup founded in 2012, wiiGo is an autonomous, self-driven shopping cart that helps customers with reduced mobility shop at hypermarkets. In late 2016 wiiGo had its first demo in France with supermarket chain Les Mousquetaires, at its Intermarket and Bricomarket stores in Auxonnes, near Dijon, and at Auchan hypermarkets.
Able to carry loads of up to 40 kg, the robot follows its “master” all around the store, using a visual identification system and obstacle-detection via sensors. After an enthusiastic response from the first test-customers, the robot will also eventually be deployed at special check-out tills.
Heasy: the smart, friendly robot kiosk
Unlike traditional reception kiosks, HEASY wins over consumers with a friendly face that gives them heart-shaped winks. The robot, which combines a cute, personable appearance with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, can move around shopping centres and other public places and detect human presence thanks to its stereoscopic vision. And in terms of information, its interactive monitor gives help and advice and can transfer information via NFC to a customer’s smartphone or put them in touch with a member of staff nearby for more complex requests.
Customisable and independent, this next-generation kiosk has an 8-hour battery life, and a 3-hour battery charging time. It can also be personalised by its “employer’’ in terms of colour options, specific features and payment solutions.
HEASY was first unveiled at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show by Hease Robotics. The Lyon-based startup has major ambitions for the industrialisation phase in two years’ time: a 30% share of the hospitality market.