Move Over Humans, Shop Robots Are Here

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This week’s [retail bytes] dives into the world of robotics – and we’re not just talking about futuristic human-shaped bots, but anything from superhero security robots and Vespa-style blue helpers to hi-tech golden retrievers. Wouldn’t a robotic pup assistant fulfil every retail staff dream?!

Superhero robots: Nearly £8m has been raised so far for cute robots from Knightscope, a company that promises to cut your shop and office security costs by replacing guards with superhero robots. The new version of the robots can even detect a concealed weapon, surpassing human abilities, while coming in at a much lower cost. Despite a few mishaps (like pushing a toddler and falling into the fountain), there is no stopping Knightscope as orders from big shopping malls and even Microsoft are pouring in. But can they detect moped riders before they snatch your phone on the street?

Gita the Shop bot from PiaggioBuying fresh veg in person is still the preferred grocery shopping mode for over 75% of Brits and even more shoppers in Europe. However, carrying the heavy purchases back home is not ideal, particularly for the elderly or those who don’t drive. Meet Gita, a beautiful and agile small, electric robot from Piaggio, who can carry your shopping, follow you or be sent home by itself with your bags. Plus, it looks as delicious as a Vespa moped. Gita means ‘fast trip’ in Italian, and with its 22mph max speed it can certainly keep up with most humans. Bring on less city pollution!

Alexa, shout for that pizza!: Ordering all your food online is still a minority sport but, as Amazon has acquired Whole Foods, it’s predicted to go mainstream with over 50% of food being shopped for online in the UK by 2022. Filling in the online order forms on Tesco or Sainsbury’s is still a pain though, and with the majority of UK shoppers ordering pretty much the same stuff every week, voice recognition ordering seems more convenient.

Alexa Echo can already cope with voice orders for Domino Pizza and Just Eat, so it’s just a hop from takeaway to grocery-by-voice shopping. The dense location networks of supermarkets suddenly looks like an overhead too far. If you fancy it, easy set-up instructions for Alexa Echo can be found here.

Santa’s little helpers?Shops, houses and offices with stairs are still hard to navigate for Gita and Knightscope, but the SpotMini robot can run up the stairs or grab that gift packaging from the top shelf with ease. A cross between an automated golden retriever and a Hobbit, SpotMini could be deployed as an extra helper before the Xmas rush in stores, a store-room assistant or even a night security guard, as it has movement detection and night vision ability. Ultra-agile, this nifty robot bodes better for the real-life deployment than Japanese Pepper, which is only a basic remote control mannequin. Go Spot!

Carcraft – where cars go to schoolAutonomous robots-on-wheels, otherwise known as self-driving cars, need a lot of schooling before they can be sent on errands all by themselves. Self-driving vans will be delivering your home shopping before long, but how do they learn in cities that don’t want to risk crashes caused by car robots-in-training?

Well, Waymo is designing CarCraft, a virtual playground for self-driving cars where they can practice and learn the ropes without danger to pedestrians. It can simulate any complex roundabout, tricky situation or even navigate a few toddlers running out in front of the hapless self-driving car and then practice till all coping behaviours are learned.

It’s good for cities to replace diesel cars with self-driving electrics – let’s just hope those driving skills really are transferable from virtual CarCraft to the real world or we’re all in trouble…

Coming Shows: Last chance to see the Robots Exhibition at the London Science Museum – a must for any retail technologist! The curation is focused only on humanoid robots (sadly no golden-retriever-shaped little helpers) but it’s still clear from the exhibits that the Robotic Future is here. Don’t miss it.