James Temperton / WIRED
Robots and automation are already commonplace in food warehouses, but they could soon be coming to supermarket aisles. Fujitsu’s Matey, shown at the company’s annual showcase in Tokyo, move autonomously through shops to monitor produce and help retailers stack shelves more effectively.
The robot is about five-feet tall and moves on wheels with a screen on the front used to communicate with any humans it comes across. A Fujitsu spokesperson explained that initially it will only be used when a shop is closed, trundling up and down aisles to check stock levels. Using a cloud-based AI, the robot could also analyse the placement of products to work out if they could be arranged more effectively.
The robot moves autonomously around a store based on a map created in advance and uses sensors to recognise QR and AR codes on shelves. A spokesperson explained that the robot was intended to help stores operate with fewer staff while also improving product layout. Information collected by Matey is processed in real-time before being sent to staff, where it’s displayed on a companion smartphone or tablet app.
Fujitsu is already in discussions with potential customers, but wouldn’t be drawn on when Matey would be seen in real-world stores. And looking forward, Fujitsu has designed it to interact with customers. Not only will this enable it to monitor stock levels when a store is open, but also help customers find what they’re looking for.
Fujitsu’s project isn’t too dissimilar to work carried out by Lowe’s in the USA. The home-improvement retailer has been trialling assistive robots in its stores since 2014. Its current project, LoweBot, is being rolled-out to 11 Lowe’s stores in the San Francisco Bay area.
The robot can answer simple customer questions, scan inventory and capture data in real-time. The launch of LoweBot came after another dubbed OSHbot, which launched at the company’s San Jose Orchard Supply Hardware store in 2014 before being closed in 2016 as the retailer focussed on the more advanced LoweBot model.