The first robot in food retailing!
The "2020 Shopper Study" by Zebra Technologies shows that 75 percent of surveyed millennial customers and more than 50 percent of Generation X customers who order products online have previously visited shops. One of the main reasons for shopping online is the insufficient availability of goods in stationary retail. This situation leads to a high number of customer complaints and causes dissatisfaction at work for 43 percent of retail employees. 39 percent of the consumers surveyed confirmed that they have already left a grocery store at least once without shopping because the desired product was not in stock.
Zebra Technologies wants to eliminate this stock shortage with the SmartSight solution. The objective is to increase the availability of goods to a maximum. The solution includes the EMA50 robot, a software platform and Professional and Managed Services.
Alexander Honigmann, Sales Director Retail and Logistics Germany, Zebra Technologies, in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global.
The almost two-meterhigh EMA50 robot implements a range of different application scenarios. Sat on a modular platform, it has the right number of cameras, a WiFi communication module and various sensors such as 2D/3D sensors, and can flexibly adapt to customer needs.
The first robot in food retailing
As it passes by, EMA50 records goods, prices and exact placements as well as numerous other parameters. According to Alexander Honigmann, the EMA50 is the first robot that has been specially developed for the requirements of the food retail trade and not only records data but also makes suggestions for improvement or solutions.
The EMA50 navigates autonomously across the store area and generates a twin 3D rendering of the store and the shelf arrangement using the built-in optical sensor technology. Already during acquisition, EMA50 identifies problems with stock keeping, price consistency or compliance with planograms. All acquired data are processed directly in the robot.
The EMA50 is the physical interface between the goods and the business intelligence in the background. Smart- Sight registers the status of goods availability and passes the data on to the goods order. Concrete instructions for responsible store managers or the employees on the sales floor are the goal. "In our view, this is indispensable - and at the same time an absolutely unique selling point of SmartSight," says Alexander Honigmann.
X eyes see more than 2
Availability of goods and customer satisfaction are strong factors influencing customer loyalty. Achieving product availability in food retail is time and labor intensive. "Grocery stores are reaching their limits," says Alexander Honigmann and explains: "The 'classic' approach relies on a high level of staff deployment and takes into account dissatisfied customers." Gaps in shelves, incorrect price labels and planograms that are not adhered to are "show stoppers" in sales.
The EMA50 robot
EMA50 is 1.98 meters high and has a base area of 62 by 60 centimeters. After a charging time of two hours, the robot can drive autonomously through a store for up to four hours. The long runtime enables the efficient acquisition of large amounts of data. In parallel, the number of required cycles reduces the charging time and thus saves electricity costs. The EMA50 moves completely autonomously. Depending on requirements, the robot drives defined routes or moves only in certain areas.
Obstacles or blocked aisles are recorded and automatically approached again at a later time. The integrated sensor technology, including 2D and 3D sensors, ensures collision-free travel despite the robot’s high speed. When a job is completed or the battery capacity is nearing its end, EMA50 navigates autonomously to its charging station.
EMA50 on the market since January 2020
EMA50 with the integrated SmartSight solution celebrated its world premiere in New York in January 2020. Retailers outside Europe have already been running tests in their stores since the end of 2019. As Alexander Honigmann reports, interest among food retailers in Germany is high.
"We are holding numerous discussions and are working with interested retailers to determine which conditions must be met in order to use EMA50." If basic infrastructure requirements are met, the robot can start rolling without extensive preparation. The EMA50 is suitable for use in a wide range of stores: a single EMA50 can cover stores with an area of 840 to 23,000 square meters.
Apps and insights on a new level
EMA50 delivers the required data directly from the shelves. When SmartSight is combined with Prescriptive Analytics, a store can use this data and additional information to respond to sudden weather changes - and the resulting change in shopping behavior - as well as to recurring events such as weekends and holidays. The analysis of the AI data supports the employee with detailed recommendations for action, leading to optimized product range and higher customer satisfaction.
Suitable shelf stocking in any weather
The information collected and processed by EMA50 is transformed into recommendations in a cloud-based analysis to provide guidance for action. The shared data analysis reduces the necessary data transfer to a minimum. The software platform determines the necessary corrective actions and can assign a task to a store employee's mobile computer almost in real time.
"SmartSight is modular in terms of both software and hardware. We can perform data analysis and issue recommendations for action according to customer requirements. The recommendations can be output centrally to the store manager, but also directly to an employee's handheld or tablet on the sales floor." explains Alexander Honigmann.
Zebra’s AI platform reduces employee workload
Following an initial "learning phase", an AI-based solution should be able to act more or less independently, thus making human input largely superfluous. With SmartSight, AI-based applications are also finding their way into the food retail industry. Both EMA50 and the systems in the background are self-learning. If a store manager rejects certain recommendations for action, this is included in the next analysis.
Zebra Technologies is also able to include almost any relevant event data in analyses, recommendations and automated ordering processes. Is a bad weather period imminent? Are the summer holidays starting? What is on the news? Which advertising campaigns are planned? This variety of external information supports forward-looking recommendations for action.
If SmartSight, an active robot-based system, is currently in the initial stages of development globally, Zebra Technologies offers the Smart- Lens solution, an already established application for retail companies outside the food sector. Different sensors permanently installed in a store automatically collect data on goods, customers, employees and assets. SmartLense is based on cameras and RFID as detection technologies.
The four different sensors - RFID Transition Point, RFID Backroom, Sensing Network Appliance and RFID Point of Sale Lane SmartLens Sensor – are specially designed for tasks in the various store areas.
2. „SmartLens Data Analytics Engine“
The 'SmartLens Data Analytics Engine' developed by Zebra Technologies aggregates the raw data of the four different sensors. RFID, microlocalization and video data are analyzed and put into context. The resulting knowledge provides fine-grained insight into all store-relevant processes from inventory management and replenishment processes from the back store to automated reordering of goods.
"Communication takes place in real time. Employees receive messages, instructions or alarms directly on their mobile devices," explains Alexander Honigmann. Similar to e-commerce, the visibility of shopping cart changes and movements in the store is possible - without recording the user.
3. ZQ630 mobile RFID printer
In addition to complex innovative solutions such as SmartSight or SmartLens, Zebra has a differentiated hardware portfolio to cover a wide range of requirements in retail. "Every RFID solution starts with RFID labels. With stationary and mobile RFID printers such as the ZQ630, retailers can print any label they need in high, consistent quality and encode it independently if required."
4. FX7500 Fixed RFID Reader
Zebra Technologies holds more than 300 RFID technology patents which are used in a comprehensive portfolio of stationary readers and matching antennas. For applications in production, logistics or directly in stores, there are numerous options, for example based on the FX7500, for integrating high-performance reading systems.
5. RFD8500 Handheld
The Zebra RFID portfolio includes a wide range of mobile handheld devices that are specifically tailored to the requirements of the retail sector. "All Zebra hardware components, such as the RFD8500, are seamlessly compatible with each other. This means that all available Zebra mobile devices can be used in the Zebra AI ecosystem, for example. Zebra Prescriptive Analytics also allows the seamless integration of any customer system," reports Alexander Honigmann.
Acquisition of Cortexica and Profitect
In order to meet the challenges - insufficient availability of goods, shortage of personnel, growing competition from e-commerce - in a sustainable manner, the use of technology is a proven, if not mandatory, means. With the development of a robot-based support solution for retail, Zebra has taken a completely new approach.
"Zebra technology from bar codes to RFID and camera-based SmartLens solutions have been in daily use in countless retail companies for years. With a robot development, we are entering a completely new path," emphasizes Alexander Honigmann. He further specifies: "What distinguishes Zebra from the majority of robot developers is that we are not a start-up. We have extensive industry and technology know-how, which we have brought to the development of EMA50".
This development was significantly supported by the two corporate acquisitions mentioned above, which were completed in 2019.
Information gives you the edge
The acquisition of two highly specialized companies in 2019 has significantly supported the development of SmartSight. "With Cortexica Vision Systems, we have significantly expanded our expertise in B2B solutions for computer-aided artificial intelligence. Cortexica has developed vision-based analysis and AI solutions, which now find applications in SmartSight for the evaluation of camera images from EMA50 applications," reports Alexander Honigmann and continues:
"The acquisition of the company Profitect was also decisive for the forward-thinking features of SmartSight. Combining Profitect with Smart-Sight allows the system to detect inventory accuracy, out-of-stock goods, price accuracy, unsaleable goods and assortment discrepancies today and to generate accurate recommendations for future action".
The mere collection of data can always only be a part of the whole picture, as Alexander Honigmann emphasizes: "It does not help a retailer to simply learn that a product is missing from a shelf.” Only concrete recommendations for action can be implemented in practice. In order to generate these recommendations for action, analysis and evaluation must be precisely coordinated. If this is not the case, even the fastest robot will not be of any help.
"Information must become knowledge and this knowledge creates the basis for the right decisions. Almost every food retailer benefits directly from this business intelligence in its daily planning and control processes," says the Zebra Sales Director.
AI and tools for data analysis
SmartSight can perform daily tasks in a retail environment thanks to its embedded AI. This creates freedom for employees. Customer advice and services can be given more attention. SmartSight creates autonomous employee support on the store floor with a combination of manual data provision by the retail company and AI-based self-learning functions of the data analysis platform and robot. By making better use of the store workforce and reducing potential fines for non-compliance, retailers can permanently reduce store operating costs. Better availability of goods leads to higher customer satisfaction.
Zebra Technologies was founded in 1969 and is currently represented by 10,000 sales partners and around 7,400 employees in over 100 countries worldwide. The core industries are trade, logistics, healthcare and industrial production. The Zebra portfolio includes RFID and barcode solutions, mobile computing, data acquisition, location determination, data platforms, software, services and consumables. The 2018 global turnover was 4.22 billion US dollars.
The Sales Director for retail and sales in Germany has been with Zebra Technologies for 15 years. He is responsible for the implementation of Zebra Technologies' sales strategy in Germany. His work enables customers to achieve a performance advantage and tackles the digital transformation required in the on-demand economy.