Autonomous robot designed to stroll store aisles and keep check on inventory

Robot keeps stores stocked with Doritos

Autonomous robot designed to stroll store aisles and keep check on inventory

By Sharon Gaudin Computerworld | Nov 12, 2015 12:50 PM PT

An autonomous robot was unveiled this week that can make sure that when you're hankering for Doritos, there's a bag waiting for you at the market.

Simbe Robotics, based in San Francisco, announced its first product, a 30-pound robot called Tally that can move up and down a store's aisles checking inventory. The robot determines what products need restocking and send reports to workers who can add more stock. Tally also is set up to work during normal store hours, alongside employees and customers.

"Tally performs repetitive and laborious tasks of auditing shelves for out-of-stock items, low stock items, misplaced items, and pricing errors," the company said in a release. "Tally has the ability to audit shelves cheaper, more frequently, and significantly faster than existing processes; and with near-perfect accuracy."

The robot is equipped with multiple sensors that not only scan shelves for inventory but scan the aisles to make sure the robot isn't bumping into shelves, displays or shoppers.

Data that the robot captures is sent to the cloud where it is processed and analyzed. Store employees access the cloud data, along with inventory recommendations, through front-end applications.

The robot comes with a charging dock that the machine will autonomously navigate back to when it needs charging.

Simbe said that its robots can help stores not only keep their shelves stocked but also increase customer satisfaction, push sales and reduce operational costs.

"When it comes to the retail industry, shopper experience is everything," said Brad Bogolea, CEO and co-founder of Simbe Robotics. "If a product is unavailable at the time the shopper wants to buy it, the retailer has missed an opportunity and disappointed their customer. "Tally helps retailers address these challenges by providing more precise and timely analysis of the state of in-store merchandise and freeing up staff to focus on customer service."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said he's not sure if having a robot to do inventory will free up workers to do bigger, more complex jobs or if it will simply mean that the business won't need as many human workers.

"Navigating a space with moving objects is something we can do now," he added. "Think about the robot that delivers things to hotel rooms or the self-driving car for that matter. And it's pretty to think that this just frees up workers but to a large extent, it frees up workers to be unemployed."

Gottheil added that it's unlikely that store customers would be put off or even frightened, by the robot, and are more likely to be intrigued by it. "I think most will think it's pretty cool," he said. "I was going to say that kids will really like it, but they'll probably just think that's the way it's always been."

Simbe Robotics did not give a price tag for the robot, and said "several" retailers are testing it.


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