A recently published study conducted by University of Oxford academics found that a significant segment of the current workforce is at risk of being usurped by robots within the next two decades.[su_frame align=”left”] [/su_frame] Retail jobs were singled out as being among those most in peril.
With an eye, then, on the looming mechanicals’ apparently imminent world conquest, a snapshot of robots’ current participation in the retail landscape.
- Lowe’s home improvement and gardening arm, Orchard Supply Hardware, operates a fleet of multilingual robots at its San Jose, CA, store. Customers can ask the five-foot-tall electronically equipped greeters to help them locate merchandise, communicating their requests verbally, employing a touch-screen menu or even presenting a physical item for the robot’s 3D scanner to pick up on. More than just report whether and where the item is in stock, the robot leads shoppers through the store to locate it.
- The Hointer Beta Store in Seattle enlists robots to deliver customers’ selections — nominated via a mobile app on their smartphones — to their dressing rooms. Shoppers can then finalize their purchases from inside that same fitting room by swiping a credit or debit card on the tablet kiosk’s attached card reader.
- Budgee is a robotic shopping trolley that uses sensors to follow shoppers around a store — with their bags and checkout-bound retail selections in tow. Developed by Five Elements Robotics and still yet to be formally unveiled at any retailers, Budgee’s usefulness is aimed particularly at the elderly and shoppers with limited mobility.
- An ice cream vendor at a shopping mall in Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning province, serves ice cream to customers who have submitted their orders through a computer. The ice-cream-dishing robot weighs 160,000 lbs. and offers six flavours of the stuff.
While an inventory of what constitutes a store’s fixtures might soon include robots as a matter of course, those with an eye on the scene urge a focus on how their presence enhances, rather than threatens, the existing scene.