A[I] review of NRF2024...
Read also our NRF2023 review here.
Note this review was written by a human and has not been interefered with by ChatGPT or any other AI incarnation.
Not entirely sure how NRF sales people persuaded Apptronik to have a stand with their humanoid lifting a hand and greeting people. Perhaps it was a free stand as they thought they would get great PR in return. Did it work? Well, here's an image of their stand in the NRF Innovation Lab zone.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) featured big time in nearly every exhibitor stand and it felt like anything could be enhanced with "AI this" and "AI that". The question may be how much is actually 'proper AI'. For example, some vendors had adopted ChatGPT scripts... should such companies be considered AI businesses or just a company with an in-sourced AI module?
In any case, the NRF Big Show in New York continues to be one of the busiest Retail Tech shows in North America and possibly also internationally and attracts a wide range of retailers, including online and grocers.
Compared to the 2023 show with numerous cancellations by exhibitors (the final throes off the pandemic), the 2024 show must be praised as a full return to normal.
However, there appeared to be some trepidation among visitors as some of the pandemic induced turbulence had now also caught up with retailers, exhibited mainly in declining cash in tills.
Note that STIQ Ltd covers mainly warehouse automation related soft- and hardware. This includes software solutions such as WMS, OMS and various marketplace services, courier management and packaging, etc. and this review will not include loss prevention solutions, etc.
THE FOOD INNOVATION ZONE (new in 2024)
Our main impression was NRF had made an effort in to get food related business to the show, showcased in the Foodservice Innovation Zone. We loved the idea of the "drive through experience", even if it was a bit "tucked away" and difficult to view as a separate feature. [Level 1]
Note we have not seen this room used previously at NRF (visited every year since 2018) which meant they expanded the show on Level 1. However, parts of the innovation area (Level 4?) was smaller so perhaps it averaged out.
Some recent bad news with a few startup failures in the wider food robotics space hung over the area. However, catering equipment companies such as Middleby showcased an interesting Pizzabot solution where they prepared a pepperoni pizza in about 35 seconds. Note this is before it goes into the oven and get cooked. We had a great conversation with the execs who were all helping out to prepare for lunch. Apparently these guys served c.1,000 slices of pizza at the height of the day.
Here's an image of Middleby's Pizzabot stand
Yours sincerely tried a Pizzabot pepperoni slice which was entirely ok.
Also in the Food Innovation Zone was the "drive-thru concept" which was a bit hidden behind a large wall. Not entirely sure why this was the case, but a visitor could easily miss this part of the show if not attentive. The stand was an amalgamation of various technologies for managing the drive-through experience.
Can't be a food innovation zone without an ambulatory Robo Burger station (!) as well. Not as busy as the Pizzabot and very selective who they made a burger for (not us) as they did not bring 100's of components apparently.
THE MAIN SHOW
Smart Cart Vendors
There were plenty of vendors of "smart carts". We did not stay to get insights on the technology and if the carts scan and weigh items, etc. This was a relatively un-scientific view on the concept of smartcarts and how they proliferated at NRF2024.
STIQ has covered "Smart Carts" in our e-Grocery Infrastructure reports and some of these have been partially been deployed to pick online orders. However, none of the exhibitors appeared to target this particular application (not confirmed).
Note for Exhibitors > A common theme is images like these which do not include any of the vendor's company name. I.e. it is difficult as a media person to remember which company exhibited. A recommendation is to add company name more prominently in the various camera angles you may be aiming for with your displays.
This cart from Shekel.
Smart cart from Cust2Mate.
Another smart cart from Machina.
And yet another from Flow.
And of course, Caper from Instacart
Shelf Monitoring Vendors
We counted at least 5-6 different vendors of shelf monitoring robots and/or automation. Brain Corp exhibited on Pier 76 which meant we missed them as they were outside NRF/Javits Centre. Simbe also arranged an event in collaboration with Eclipse VC, one of their investors.
Shelf Monitoring devices have been covered in STIQs e-Grocery Infrastructure reports.
Shelf scanning robot from Shelfietech.
Not sure which one is the shelf monitor?
Jabil showing off their Badger shelf scanning robot.
Simbe Robotics showcasing their robot. Simbe also hosted very pleasant drinks evening - thanks for the invite guys!
Autonomous Store Vendors
There were multiple vendors of autonomous store technology on display at NRF2024. These are just a handful. We saw about 10 different vendors. And, this is despite a relatively limited uptake of such technology.
AWL frictionless technology showed off their technology on Level 1 at NRF. The company has been covered in STIQs reports on eGrocery Infrastructure.
Hitachi exhibited their Co-Uriba solution.
Yes, Amazon are still trying to flog their smart retail concept including Just Walk Out (which, incidentally, also more or less "created" the sector). How long will they push money into these solutions? Amazon has been present at nearly every trade show we have been to in recent years - hint, why not just advertise in STIQs eGrocery Infrastructure report?
MHE & Robotics Vendors
Rapyuta Robotics co-exhibited with Sumitomo Corporation on Level 1 at NRF2024.
Bear Robotics restaurant service robots was present at a stand (Korean vendor name escapes us here, will update).
Japanese vendor Muse exhibited a robot that could do just about anything... according to the team. There appeared to be a lack of focus for this robot or something may have been lost in translation as well. Slick design.
The applications appeared to be to pull trollies, scan shelves and more.
ForwardX also exhibited their range of robots on Level 1. Not entirely sure the stand size provided enough space to showcase what the robots could actually do.
Some of the bigger companies like Microsoft, Dell, HP and others typically offer space to startups that use their solutions or are part of incubators, etc. At NRF2024, this was exploited by 1M Robotics here at Microsoft's stand.
InVia Robotics featured on the Dell stand at NRF2024.
AutoStore was present at NRF2024, but with a smaller presence compared to 2023. The company launched their PIO RaaS solution at NRF2023 but this did not feature (as far as we could see - can you find it?).
Lozier + Casi is an OEM vendor/installer of conveyors, etc.
Vinci Robotics is a startup focused on solving restocking for retailers and grocers. This was a static display so no video available from NRF2024. Some questions around ROI on a dual robot (or are there 3?) like this combining a mobile platform with a UR cobot arm. There are also issues like resetting an arm if it is interfered with and stops during operations.
Fuji Innovation Lab exhibited again in 2024 (we also saw them in the startup section in 2023). Nice shoutout to Resindek as well - some robot stands required these panels as the floor was carpeted (apparently no option to stay on the concrete floor).
Locus and Geek+ (latter in the background) were present on UPS' Supply Chain Solutions stand at NRF2024.
KPI Solutions, a US integrator, displayed a mini-AutoStore installation at NRF2024.
Whilst not strictly MHE, this trolley from (company name to be updated) has been adopted for online grocery order fulfilment by some grocers. Picking directly into the refrigerated tote offers an efficient solution.
This solution courtesy of Liviri.
MHE People at NRF2024
We met several faces we have seen around for a while.
David Schwebel from Righthand Robotics.
Yegor and Rebecca from Instock and Manthan from Levatan (formerly "Barcodes Inc")
Jacob and Thomas from Fabric (getfabric)
Shawn and Tom at Middleby in front of their Pizzabot stand in the Food Innovation Zone. Thanks for the invite to come see you in Dallas!
THE PRESS/MEDIA ROOM
If you ever wonder where media disappears to... this is the infamous Press Lounge at NRF/Javits Center.
New York January 2024 was warmer than usual, but we managed to get a taste of the chills experienced in Northern parts of the US.
Will we visit NRF in 2025? Good question. Whilst the show is one of the most important retail tech shows, there are also other US shows that could offer new excitement to our annual January coverage, such as CES or Manifest, both in Las Vegas.