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AT&T joins the retail robot revolution

AT&T Business has unveiled a new partnership to target the retail segment, a vertical which might look completely different in a few years’ time.

Working alongside Badger Technologies, the aim here is to improve capabilities which are already in place as opposed to create a human-less shopping experience. With its new 5G capabilities, improvements for indoor coverage and expansion of MEC, the duo are targeting operational efficiencies throughout the super market.

“In-building cellular solutions, including 5G and edge computing, are critical drivers of digital transformation for retailers,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO of AT&T Business.

“These technologies will eventually equip robots with both the compute power and lower latency needed to increase revenue, improve the in-store experience, and elevate employees to better assist customers. Badger Technologies’ robots can help retailers make sure they have products in stock and in the right place, increasing customer satisfaction. That leads to increased revenue. That’s the power of data.”

Robots in supermarkets are not exactly a new idea. In some of the larger retailers in the US, small robots roll through the aisles hoping to identify out-of-stock, mispriced or misplaced inventory as well as store hazards, informing human colleagues of up-coming tasks which need to be completed. However, running these systems over wifi can be inefficient and even impossible when it comes to transmission and processing of data.

Although this is a very simple application focused on improving efficiency as opposed to revolutionising the retail experience, it is an incremental step towards automation in the industry. In a few years’ time, there might not be any need to have humans working in the supermarket whatsoever; MEC and improved connectivity will be critical components.

Firstly, you have to look at the home delivery segment. Not all consumers will buy into this concept, however with improved connectivity, this could be a completely autonomous process. Amazon fulfilment centres already incorporate robotic processes to reduce the need for humans, whereas progress is being made on autonomous vehicles and small robots to make the delivery over the ‘last mile’. In theory, this does not have to have a single human in the process.

One other area which seems to attract headlines every couple of weeks are the cashier-less stores. The concept is not new, self-check out machines are becoming increasingly common, though this idea could be taken up another level. Amazon is once again making progress here, potentially removing the need for self-scan tills completely, though improvements in indoor connectivity and MEC could help this idea progress even further.

Finally, you only have to look at companies like Boston Dynamics to see the advancements which are being made with humanoid robots. Cashiers are heading towards the door and it might not be too long before shelf-stackers might follow them. Robotics is a field which is advancing ridiculously fast (see video at the bottom of article), and while the economics will not make sense for the moment, that is only a matter of time.

The warehouse could be robotic, payments could be managed through sensors and apps, on-shelf-stock and hazards could be monitored by simplistic robotics and cameras, restocking and hazards cleared by advanced robotics and deliveries could be performed by drones or autonomous vehicles. With MEC decreasing latency, cloud-based AI constantly improving all the processes and indoor connectivity ensuring everything runs smoothly, soon enough there might not be any need to have a human involved in the supermarket.

This might seem like an unrealistic idea right now, but always remember this Bill Gates quote; most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten.

 

Do you have some clear ideas about how the edge computing sector is developing? Then please complete the short survey being run by our colleagues at the Edge Computing Congress and Telecoms.com Intelligence. Click here to see the questions.

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