Robotics is one of the more exciting spaces right now and while there was no lack of vendors at NRF 2019, perhaps the space is not conducive to display and demo some of the more exciting systems (space limitations).
Readers may also be interested in Styleintelligence's Goods to Person robotics 2018 report available for free here.
Types of robots on display
The types of robots available at NRF2019 can be split into three different categories: Customer Service Robots, Stock Check Robots and Warehouse Robots.
It should be noted that we did not document ALL the robotics available at NRF. However, we did cover all the Warehouse Robotic systems on display (Locus, 6River Systems and IAM Robotics)
Customer Service Robots are in the main robots with the single goal of ensuring a customer finds a way to a product or answering a question. Styleintelligence's views this segment as "in development" due to limitations of technology and cost. However, the following companies demo'd their products at #NRF2019:
Stock Check Robots include the likes of Bossa Nova. We saw 2 or 3 of these robots at the show.
These robots move around in grocery store isles and scan for empty spaces in the shelves to alert management re potential stock-outs and inventory replenishment. In addition to this they can also be used to ensure planograms are followed.
Warehouse robots is our speciality and hence why we were excited to see a few on display. IAM Robotics are quite unique in the space insofar the robot is made up from two individual robots - one PA-AMR (the chassis) and an articulated arm to pick items from shelves. Whilst the robot (Madison) on display only used suction arm we understand there may be plans to implement further grabbing tools in the future.IAM Robotics features in our Goods to Person Robotics report and we had a lengthy and very interesting conversation with the CEO.
Two PA-AMR's on display was 6River Systems and Locus Robotics. The latter also showed at NRF in 2018.
Unfortunately there were no executives at the 6River stand, but we are hopeful to talk to to them at LogiMat in Stuttgart in February 2019.
The Alibaba PR machine was also on display with their Hema grocery store concept. We never got any information whether the showcase was there to sell the solution or if it was only as a piece of PR?
On another note, we have noticed that Alibaba has a really neat innovation process. It simply repurposes existing technology instead of developing any real IP themselves. This is a relatively cheap way of 'innovating' but feels as if it is being used as a way to prop up the share price rather than anything else.
Competition in its home market is huge and the company is fighting for a share of customer eyeballs. We are hoping to get further visibility on Alibaba's innovation processes because we think they are a great way of prolonging the lifespan of legacy technology without really operating at the bleeding edge.
Alibaba Hema or Freshippo (note that Hema is 'Freshippo' in the US, potentially due to trademarks dispute with the Dutch store group Hema)
A video of Locus Robotics in operation. Note the fiducials (google it) on the bottom of the shelves - these are there to help the robots to navigate. Most Goods to person robotics have such.