The "rolling colleague" is two meters tall and weighs in at 60 kilos. Its job doesn't start until the last member of staff leaves the store at the end of the working day: as soon as the entrance door is locked, the "robot colleague" automatically leaves its charging station, switches on its lights and cameras, and moves purposefully through the store. Aisle after aisle, it scans the shelves, "remembering" where products are and what quantities of each item are present. At the end of its rounds, the robot's camera systems and artificial intelligence have created a digital image of the stock levels throughout the entire store: an image which is built up again every night.
"This "digital twin" creates a completely up-to-date image of the store with a level of detail that impossible to find anywhere else today", explained Jonas Reiling (32), Managing Director of Bremen start-up Ubica Robotics, as he described the unique feature of the robot. "Until now, over the counter retailers have not been able to use their potential to the full, simply because this data was unavailable. Our robots will help change that and improve the ability of physical stores to compete with online retailers."
Robots give human employees more time for talking to customers
On the very first day that a branch of a supermarket or a chemists opens, the shop workers know exactly which products they have, where they are and what quantities are present. However, investigations by Reiling and his co-founder Georg Bartels (35) have revealed that, over time, the situation on the ground slips further away from the plan. "Items are not posted correctly at the cash desk, things get broken or stolen, there are delivery errors or goods aren't placed on the correct shelf", stated Bartels, who is also a Managing Director. "As a result, an average of 60 percent of the stock in the stores is not recorded correctly." This is exactly the problem that new technology can address, and so help retailers become more efficient by optimising supply chains and in-house processes.
"No one is capable of counting thousands of items every day, and remembering their exact position", said Bartels. "Even the annual stock take isn't free of errors." However, robots shouldn't be seen as competition for human employees. Quite the contrary, the robots are there to support them: "Our aim is to make working in over the counter retail more attractive, because members of staff can spend more time helping and advising their clientèle. And that can only happen if technology can relieve them of the time-consuming job of counting products."