The next time you walk into an apparel store, you might be greeted by a wide-eyed robot quizzing you on your preferences and displaying suggestions on a touch screen on its chest. You might even have been scanned during your entry, with the artificial intelligence system ready to suggest the latest haute couture suiting your style… (Featured image sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SoftBank_pepper.JPG)
The next time you walk into an apparel store, you might be greeted by a wide-eyed robot quizzing you on your preferences and displaying suggestions on a touch screen on its chest. You might even have been scanned during your entry, with the artificial intelligence system ready to suggest the latest haute couture suiting your style statement and fit even before you reach the shelves.
The use of robots inside a store is the upcoming trend in a retail environment. Robots in a store enable automating difficult tasks to ease the work done by humans and increase efficiency. They transform a customer’s in-store experience by real-time interactions.
A few popular in-store AI systems are:
LoweBot: Lowe has introduced the LoweBot in its stores to assist customers to navigate through the alleys of the store and help them identify a desired product. The LoweBot responds to voice commands and type commands to provide direction using laser sensors. It can also speak multiple languages, making it a more efficient customer interface point. The LoweBots also assist store associates with inventory information.
Tally: Tally, by Simbe Robotics, provides information to store associates regarding shelf inventory. The robot performs a shelf audit by roaming around the store aisles. It also monitors price tag display and decides the pricing of a product. Tally has been introduced in Schnucks retail store to assist the store employees by providing them real-time information of stock level. Simbe Robotics has a patent application US 20170193434 A1 which discloses a robotic system to track the stock level within a store.
EA BOT: Chennai’s (India) Express Avenue recently launched the EA BOT to assist customers in locating a desired store within the mall. It also informs customers about offers to help them make purchase decisions.
Pepper: Pepper is a humanoid robot by SoftBank Robotics that analyzes emotions and the satisfaction level of a customer in a retail store. It moves around the store to identify customers seeking assistance and asks multiple questions in real-time to understand customer needs. It analyzes voice change, body movements and facial expressions of a customer and responds according to its analysis. This eases the work of store associates since Pepper can cater to basic repetitive interactions. A patent application US 20170106539 A1 belonging to SoftBank Robotics talks about a robot that captures audio from a human user, compares it with predefined patterns comprising sentences and executes actions based on the comparison. Palo Alto, a high-tech store used Pepper for customer service for a week long. Pizza Hut deployed Pepper to its restaurants in Asia where it functions as a robotic waiter, which can greet and interact with customers and also take food orders.
Few relevant patents
The in-store robotic assistance field is attracting much attention in the AI industry. Fellow Robotics has worked on one such technology patented in US 20160114488 A1. The patent describes a robot that scans samples of a product provided by the customer to find it within the store. After finding the product, the robot displays the location, price and promotional information associated with it. It also scans the environment to analyze customer expressions and understand if a customer requires assistance. It interacts with the identified customer via audio signals and graphical avatars on a touchscreen device placed on its body. If the robot analyzes that a customer is interested in being guided through the store, it engages itself; otherwise it returns to a predefined location within the store. The patent also suggests the robot to be capable of interacting in multiple languages. It makes product recommendations based on previous purchase history and can also help in product management at shelves, including detecting misplaced products.
IBM has been researching actively in the AI space, and its foray into the retail industry is but natural. The company has filed a patent US 7693757 B2 that discusses a mobile inventory robot which can navigate through a retail store to help out a store operator. The mobile robot consists of image devices and RFID readers to identify products on shelves and their location. The robot captures images of the shelves when navigating and decodes barcode image to determine whether products are out-of-stock. Both imaging devices and RFID readers enable the tracking of products from the moment they arrive in a store. The robot may also help determine if products are stolen or misplaced. It consists of an audio input and audio output system to receive and transmit audio, and a touch screen to help customers to view information about product location and availability, and other services.
Retail stores are increasingly beginning to depend on robotic technology, encouraging advanced R&D in AI. Robots can handle complex tasks simultaneously and can also perform physically strenuous tasks such as lifting and stocking heavy items on shelves easily. With robots being made more efficient to analyze human needs via emotional sensing, they are beginning to demonstrate a wide variety of advantages such as ease of employee work, accurate results, increasing efficiency, improved sales and customer satisfaction in a retail environment. This goes to show that soon enough every major retail store will include a bot on its floor.
(Featured image is for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SoftBank_pepper.JPG)