How Robots Can Transform Retail With Machine Vision
Author: Naveen Joshi
Robots have transcended the realm of sci-fi fantasy and are now making revolutionary waves in several industries. Industries that deal with complex, life-threatening tasks have been enjoying tremendous benefits from robots. From being controlled by a human operator to now being fully autonomous, robotics has vastly grown. Equipped with cutting-edge technologies, some robots today are designed such that they closely emulate human intelligence, in one form or another. Due to this, we see the use cases of robots in areas that need human intelligence and decision-making capabilities. One way robots are able to see, analyze, and act suitably is because they are vision-powered. Armed with cameras and trained with machine vision algorithms, robots are now able to capture images and videos, analyze them, and then respond accordingly. The potential of robots to respond as humans do has opened up new opportunities in several industries, including the retail industry.
The concept of retail robots shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Industry behemoths like Amazon and Walmart have already leveraged robots in their warehouses for streamlining and optimizing inventory related activities. However, the potential for robots enabled by machine vision in retail is even more promising. These evolved robots will be smart enough to perform basic as well as complex activities with higher levels of intelligence. Here’s how:
Applications of robots using machine vision in retail
Retail robots that use machine vision can offer benefits ranging from time and cost savings to operational efficiency and prompt customer service.
- Cleanliness of the store
- Easy availability of desired items
- Management of store security
- Optimization of store temperature
- Movement of items to the right shelves
All of these have to be supervised, controlled, and managed consistently. And to take care of all these, retail leaders hire store managers. However, managing everything right is not an easy undertaking. Besides, all of these are not only time-consuming but also monotonous and dull tasks. In addition, there are high chances of mistakes when humans perform any job. To eliminate hassles, retail stores can use camera-equipped robots that are trained with machine-vision algorithms. These robots can perform basic tasks like:
- Take pictures of aisles, shelves, and every corner of the store, analyze and interpret unclean areas, and clean by themselves
- Capture pictures at entry gates, understand when customers enter the store, and greet them
- Take photographs of new cartons, analyze items in the box, and move the right items to the right shelves.
This way, store managers can assign basic yet decision-making-based tasks to robots that use machine vision. As a result, these managers can take up strategic roles and perform tasks that require more complex thinking.
Automatic checkout systems
The checkout process is often an ordeal for customers. No one would ever wish to wait in long lines to pay for products. What if this isn’t the case anymore? What if customers aren’t required to go through the checkout process? If this happens, don’t you feel that it would be an exceptional service for your customers? Robots, in fact, now have the capability to automate this process.
Panasonic, a Japanese multinational electronics company, introduced a robotic checkout at a grocery store in Osaka. The store has robotic baskets that contain a scanner for analyzing items that are picked by customers. These baskets keep track of customer purchases. Once done with their selection, the customer reaches the autonomous checkout system and places their basket in the system where the scanned data is read and a bill is generated. Once payment is made, the system automatically drops the items in a bag for the customer. Quite amazing!
However, this process can be made even more convenient for customers by equipping robots with machine-vision algorithms. Customers, once done with their shopping, could go to these robots instead of cashiers. The robots will take photographs of the selected items, process the images, generate a bill, and allow customers to pay on the spot. That’s even more incredible.
Inventory management is one of the toughest and time-intensive jobs that retailers deal with. Employees are expected to efficiently carry out inventory-related activities like moving, storing, counting, and replenishing stock for offering a seamless customer experience. Any delay or mistake in performing these tasks can have a negative impact on the customer experience, without a doubt. Therefore, instead of manual methods, retail businesses should consider involving machines. Vision-guided robots with inbuilt image processing capabilities can help here.
These robots can seamlessly roam around the aisles of a retail store, clicking photographs of shelves and inventories. These images will be analyzed and processed in real time. The object recognition and classification features of machine vision will allow the robots to identify the items that are about to go out of stock. Besides, the photographs will give details on the condition of the items that remain on the shelves. All of this will be understood by robots automatically without human involvement. These robots will then take the necessary actions that will best suit the scenario.
Obviously, customers are your center of focus. Retailers should therefore take care of all their needs from the time they enter the store until they leave. However, tending to every visitor and providing prompt service to them is a difficult job. Why can’t this job be assigned to robots? Trained with machine-vision algorithms, camera-fitted robots can help customers to find items they are looking for by using their object recognition function. The face recognition function of the machine-vision system will help the robot to identify customers who seek help or support. The robots can provide personalized guidance to these customers throughout the buying process.
Robots have disrupted many industries, indeed. But the way robots with machine vision can transform these industries is surely worth following. With further technological advancements, we will see more such applications of vision-guided robots in the future, potentially making retail the realm of robots.