There has been a considerable amount of experimentation with automation in retail in the last few years, but the majority of this has been behind the scenes, with technology used to ensure stock management is as efficient as possible.
Many of the more adventurous explorations of autonomous technology have come from Asia, so it’s perhaps not surprising that one of the more interesting recent projects has come via South Korean supermarket E-mart.
They’ve announced that a couple of robotic technologies are being trialled in their stores this year. The first of these is an autonomous shopping cart, called Eli, which was showcased at the company’s giant supermarket in Gyeonggi Province earlier this year.
The device has been equipped with a range of sensors to both recognize human voices and navigate the store. It’s also been programmed so that it can advise shoppers on where to find particular items, whilst also taking payment from shoppers as well. It can even help the shoppers locate their car in the parking lot. Once the transaction is complete, the cart returns to a charging station automatically.
“The company has been experimenting with a cart with cutting-edge technology for over a year, to improve customers’ shopping experience,” E-mart say. “Although the commercialization of Eli is currently under discussion, we aim to provide Eli carts to E-mart stores across the country within three years.”
This has been followed up by the trial of a second robot that is designed to provide a concierge like service to shoppers. The technology, which has been tested at one of E-mart’s outlet stores in Seoul for three weeks, is based upon the Pepper device developed by Softbank Robotics.
It’s designed to offer shoppers a range of advice on products, sales and other frequently asked questions. The company has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Seoul National University to conduct joint research on autonomous robots in retail.