ARE WE FINALLY BACK TO NORMAL?
The 2022 NRF show was a dud with plenty of exhibitor + visitor cancellations due to Covid restrictions. This year's edition was pretty much back to normal and visitor numbers felt as if they hit pre-pandemic levels.
Yours truly in front of the entrance hall at Javits Center (picture from the new wing). Filling up pretty quick down there. The perspective is probably a bit deceptive (or my camera is bad), but there was no shortage of attendees for sure.
A LACK OF INNOVATIVE IDEAS/CONCEPTS
Our immediate impression of the show was a certain lack of innovation. However, this could also be turned around to say there were plenty of mature hardware and software on show.
Yes, there were pockets of new technology and ideas, like this 3D presence or hologram solution from AHRT (Canada).
There were plenty of smart carts on display, checkouts with a variety of friction and some without friction. But overall there was a lack of "fizz". The Innovation Lab part of NRF felt a bit tired with some of the companies nearly 10 years old and by now also serial exhibitors.
STIQs focus - of course - was on warehouse automation, robotics and grocery fulfilment technologies
WHERE WERE THE WAREHOUSE AUTOMATION COMPANIES?
Perhaps the 2022 experience was a year many warehouse automation companies exhibiting at NRF wanted to forget and actively stayed away or reduced their presence massively.
There were very few large stands from robot vendors. Locus, AutoStore, OPEX and Tompkins Robotics were the main companies with bespoke large-ish stands. RightHand Robotics, Pio (AutoStore sister company) also had good sized stands. (more on PIO below)
This is [hopefully] a complete list of the robotics (24 in total) companies we noticed at NRF2023 (please do send me an angry email if I have missed anyone!): AutoStore, Badger, Bear Robotics, Brain, Covariant, Dematic, Exotec, Fetch Robotics, Fuji Innovation Labs, Geek+, Gideon, GreyOrange, Ice Robotics, InVia Robotics, Locus, OPEX, Ottonomy, PAL Robotics, PIO, RightHand Robotics, Savoye, Temi, Tompkins Robotics, and Vecna Robotics
AutoStore at NRF.
Tompkins Robotics, a regular feature at NRF.
OPEX at NRF showing off their SureSort solution. We think this is the first year they exhibit at NRF? (happy to be corrected)
Note: At other trade shows, Locus has let other exhibitors keep a Locus robot on their stand. We only saw one robot at another stand at NRF.
Fetch Robotics was also present at NRF2023, courtesy of parent company Zebra.
And Dematic also had a presence - as usual. In fact, Dematic is one of the few companies continually exhibiting at NRF and have had a small-ish stand since STIQ started visiting NRF in 2018.
GreyOrange took things a bit further and brought this cardboard cutout of a robot to their stand. Like? Not like?
RightHand Robotics at NRF2023. Safety curtains in the front (yellow vertical sensors) sensing when people enter the space.
Gideon and Vecna Robotics were also present at NRF2023.
Other vendors appeared to have taken a more pragmatic view and exhibited in partner's stands instead. These sensible companies included Geek+ (ProGlove), Exotec (Dell), InVia Robotics (Microsoft), and Covariant (Radial).
Exotec co-exhibited on Dell's stand.
Geek+ co-exhibited together with ProGlove.
Covariant co-exhibited with Radial. On another note, Radial had an interesting promo video with nearly 10 or so automation providers, showcasing it's ability to work with whatever automation is suitable for its customers. Some 3PLs also use this as a sales tool.
Problem when co-exhibiting is that it can be tricky to have robots moving (they need space, safety features, etc.). InVia Robotics co-exhibiting on the Microsoft stand at NRF2023.
Unfortunately we did not take an image of Savoye's stand, but here's an image of their sponsored Donut Dunk morning for retailers. At STIQ we are in fantastic AWE of the many different ways NRF have monetised surfaces at the show.
Badger (Jabil) and PAL Robotics was also present with their shelf scanning robots.
Fuji Innovation Lab with their SLAM navigated robot. This was apparently a concept model to evaluate the market response. Fuji has marketed this as a robot to be used in grocery stores.
Non-warehouse automation robot companies at NRF2023 included Bear Robotics, ICE Robotics, Ottonomy, and Temi.
Bear Robotics featured on Solum's stand. We never got to grips why it was there really, if it was meant to help replenish stores or just as a pretty thing moving in store aisles... Perhaps it was simply an opportunity as both companies are from South Korea?
Fresh from CES in Las Vegas, last mile delivery robot company Ottonomy also exhibited at NRF2023.
PLENTY OF AUTONOMOUS STORE VENDORS...
There were plenty of autonomous stores of various degrees of autonomy at NRF2023 alongside smart carts of varying degrees of "smartness".
One of the more interesting Autonomous Store vendors can arguably be Aifi. Their collaboration with partner Polish convenience grocer Zabka is one of the largest deployments of unmanned stores globally to STIQs knowledge (possibly with the exception of Amazon Go). Aifi co-exhibited with Zabka on the Microsoft stand. More about the colleaboration between Aifi and Zabka in STIQs upcoming report on eGrocery Infrastructure.
... AND SMART CARTS
Plenty of smart cart vendors exhibited as well, potentially spurred on by Instacart's recent acquisition of Caper...
Nextop is a Brazilian smart cart... but the translator didn't know much about the product and our patience ran out too quickly with this one. Apologies - we will try to get more information as it seemed this product was also used for ecommere/egrocery fulfilment.
Toshiba showcased their own smart cart version. The functionality was a bit different in that their solution works together with self-checkout scanners and tell consumers when the product in the cart has not been scanned, etc. rather than actually scanning products.
Another version (from an unidentified company - some exhibitors do a bad job of adding logos so they definitely appear from all angles (let us know who this is please!). However, this solution comes with a scale on top as well possibly constraining the amount of products in the cart?
Veeve's smart cart version.
WHAT WAS MOST INTERESTING?
PIO was one of the more interesting news at NRF. The company was founded in 2020/21 and is led by Magne Hatteland, related to the original founder of AutoStore. This is a subsidiary of AutoStore holdings (the listed entity) and its focus is to sell and system integrate smaller deployments which perhaps AutoStore's many system integrator partners do not want to work on (too small?).
PIO was also interesting because the new CEO didn't make any mention whatsoever about this in this recent FT.com article. However, it did mention a similar RAAS business model (pay per pick).
IN-STORE PICK TO LIGHT
Another interesting trend in recent years has been the addition of different coloured LED lights to shelf labels.
The primary purpose of this has been to make it easier for store associates to restock shelves. However, the pandemic has highlighted this can also be used for picking online grocery orders more effectively.
Pricer had gone all out with the Dark Store pick to light concept on their stand. However, our impression was that all shelf label vendors provided similar functionality.
SUMMING UP NRF 2023
- Visitor numbers back to normal levels for sure!
- A lack of new and exciting technologies. There were small pockets of excitement, but overall quite a mature technology event
- Nearly ALL warehouse automation vendors had scaled down their stands from 2022 and 2019
- Smart Carts and Autonomous Stores given a new lease of life?
BUSINESS CARDS ARE DEAD, LONG LIVE THE BUSINESS CARD!
On a more trivial point - less and less people carry business cards. This may be great for nature, but digital cards that you send from one phone to another can be tricky when Wifi is acting up (which it inevitably does at ALL trade shows). Some of the NFC enabled cards work without Wifi (smart!), but it is inevitably harder to make notes to these contact details on the phone rather than scribbling on a card.
And, for those of you that do continue with business cards - do not cover them in shiny plastic/glossy paint. We can't write anything on your card to remind us exactly why we thought it was a good idea to take your card in the first place (our memory banks are good, but very short).
Ok, business card rant and review over. If you have any additional views or simply want to add a new company we didn't think of, missed, etc. - just comment. You can be anonymous.
Note: This article has been updated to include more robot companies.
FInally, did you know STIQ is a publisher of FREE-to-download market reports?
- eGrocery Infrastructure: Read about fulfilment technologies, MFCs, CFCs, autonomous stores and smart carts
- G2P Solutions: Read about ecommerce fulfilment technologies such as Addverb, AutoStore, Dematic, Geek+ and picking robots, etc.
- AGV & AMR Robotics: Read about autonomous forklifts and pallet handling robots + mobile robots for lighter intralogistics purposes