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Exclusive Q&A: Bringing employees and automation together with ‘cobotics’

Chris Wetmore
Chris Wetmore, VP of sales, ICE Cobotics

The newest trend in retail automation uses machines to work collaboratively with human associates.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Chris Wetmore, VP of sales at ICE Cobotics, to learn how retailers can enhance employee productivity and streamline enterprise workflows, especially in the store, by using “cobotic” technology that combines human and robotic efforts. ICE Cobotics provides in-store autonomous floor cleaning technologies.

How would you define ‘cobotics’? 

While the term “robotics” implies fully automating a task with no human involvement; the term cobotics, put simply, is used to describe the intersection of machines and humans working together to accomplish a task. 

How can ‘cobots’ help retailers with cleaning stores? 

Retailers face many challenges including consistency and availability of labor, as well as no good way to confirm a clean environment. Cobots can help retailers because they are reliable, predictable, and can be run consistently throughout the day. Plus, many robots come with fleet management software that helps end users to confirm the cleaning is done.

In addition, cobots can take on repetitive and mundane tasks that frontline workers perform on a daily basis. This ultimately helps to improve morale, efficiency and overall job satisfaction.

How can in-store cobots help retailers maximize staff productivity? 

At the end of the day, “cobots,” or robots, give time back. In the retail world, this time would ideally be spent taking care of customers, since from a consumer perspective, customer service is a growing preference.

Time given back by the use of in-store cobots also enables staff to focus more of their shifts on high-impact tasks on the sales floor. For example, these could include stocking and replenishing shelves or tidying display. And in grocery stores, associates with time freed up by cobots could devote more attention toward making sure fresh food or prepared food areas are kept clean.

Another large component of in-store cobots’ positive impact on in-store productivity revolves around the availability of labor. With unemployment rates at all-time lows, more work is being performed by fewer staffers, especially as retailers continue to offer more ways to shop. This means associates have more tasks to manage. 

Cobotics helps ensure the work is performed to scope, because in-store cobots can easily be deployed by busy staff, while managers or leaders can use the collected cleaning data to confirm the work is being done.     

[Read more: Kum & Go to roll out cleaning robots]

Can retailers combine automated scrubbers with other in-store functions? 

Yes, many automated scrubbers can be paired with other in-store technology, for example, some auto scrubbers can pair with shelf scanning equipment. Stacking automated technologies like this can reduce risk and deliver greater ROI to a retailer, but it can also create other challenges based on how the technologies work independently of each other. 

Vendors of these combined automatic technologies will need to work in concert with each other on these combinations, which can potentially slow their development efforts and impact speed to market of solutions.

What solutions does ICE Cobotics offer retailers to help automate in-store tasks?    

ICE Cobotics has recently launched our third cobot in the cleaning space, Cobi 18, an autonomous floor scrubber. This compact 18-inch scrubber runs autonomously, can be operated easily by anyone, navigates through tight areas in retail environments, and navigates around glass and mirrors. Cobi 18 performs the cleaning task of a manual mop, or manual floor scrubber, with little employee oversight. 

Another exciting part of this product is in the offering itself. Cobi 18 is offered through an all-inclusive subscription model that includes all consumables, wear parts, service, software updates and freight. All of this helps to make implementing automation simple and hassle-free.

Cobi 18 also comes with i-SYNERGY, a cleaning performance app that allows the end-user to view machine usage, productivity and other metrics that are aimed at helping staff achieve higher efficiency.

For busy retail managers that may sometimes oversee multiple stores, this service model along with utilizing Cobi 18, makes budgeting straightforward, takes the guess work out of running a fleet of equipment, and helps those in charge to identify opportunities to increase productivity and efficiency for their staff.

In the end, store staff can spend more time focusing on customers, higher-level tasks, and keeping the retail store ready for customers.


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