Robotic innovation continues spreading across the retail enterprise – popping up to automate an increasing variety of tasks.
In September 2021, I wrote a column about how robots are becoming a mainstream feature throughout the retail enterprise. In the five months since, robotic automation has only become an even more popular means of streamlining retail workflows.
While robots are indeed everywhere in retail, for this week’s column I decided to focus on three interesting examples of how retailers are using robots to enhance store operations.
Keeping it clean – and accurate
Leading warehouse club retailer Sam’s Club uses Tennant T7AMR autonomous floor scrubbers, automated by the Brain Corp. BrainOS artificial intelligence (AI) platform, in every one if its nearly 600 U.S. stores. In use by Sam’s Club parent Walmart at some stores since 2019, the robotic scrubbers have the capability to navigate autonomously, avoid obstacles, adapt to changing environments, manage data, generate reports, and seamlessly interact with end-users and other robots.
The robots operate collaboratively alongside store employees by utilizing an intuitive ‘teach and repeat’ approach, which allows associates to deploy the machines and adjust cleaning routes as the environment changes. In addition, store associates are freed from spending hours using manually operated cleaning machines.
Now, Sam’s Club is giving its in-store robotic fleet more work, adding inventory scan functionality. A new BrainOS scanning accessory, which features a dual-function design, will be fitted to the roughly 600 autonomous floor scrubbers already deployed within its stores. Once installed on the scrubber, the new, cloud-connected inventory scan tower is able to capture data as it moves autonomously around the store.
Reports will then be delivered to store managers that provide numerous insights including verification of pricing accuracy, planogram compliance, product stock levels and product localization. Each function automates a formerly manual process, helping to reduce waste and inventory loss.
Do you want automation with that?
Fast-food burger chain White Castle is currently expanding a pilot of a solution that automates the work of an entire fry station. Following the fall 2020 deployment of a Miso Robotics Flippy robotic frying solution at a Chicagoland-area store and subsequent November 2021 upgrade to the new Flippy 2 version, White Castle is rolling the technology out to 100 new standalone locations.
Specific benefits White Castle has received from the robot include being able to optimize staffing during late-night shifts for its 24-hour operations. Traditionally difficult slots to fill, these shifts have been further challenged by social distancing resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With store employees able to focus on front-of-the-house needs, they are increasing their attention to order fulfillment for delivery and takeout. And improved kitchen workflows have allowed White Castle to redeploy workers to focus on customer-facing activities. Rollouts of Flippy 2 are being phased by region and will be planned out and scheduled in the months and years ahead.
Give me a store – hold the staff
There are now “stores” at several U.S. airports that enable consumers to instantly get the products they need or want, without dealing with anyone or touching anything.
Airports including San Francisco International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Atlanta Hartsfield, and Houston are deploying contactless shopping technology from Swyft Inc. Consumers can stand in front of robotic stores equipped with Swyft technology and use their mobile phone to complete their purchase.
Customers can also pay using their physical credit card or NFC-enabled phone, and are not required to download a mobile app or create a mobile wallet or online account. Every automated store (robotic vending machine) on Swyft's platform is a connected micro-warehouse.