Rise of the shelf scanning robot

There's growing competition among robotics companies targeting brick & mortar retail.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Simbe, a company that makes an autonomous mobile shelf scanning robot for retail locations, is announcing a new partnership with French-based Decathlon, the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. A Simbe robot named Tally will soon be rolling down the aisles of Decathlon's first US location.

The announcement comes on the heels of Simbe's recent partnership with Schnuck Markets, one of the largest privately-held supermarket chains in the States.

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Though new to market and not yet widely distributed, shelf scanning robots will become a common sight in physical retail locations within the next couple years. At a basic level, the robots, which roam stores and quickly scan merchandise on shelves using machine vision or RFID readers, help retailers keep track of inventory more efficiently than employees with scanning guns.

But the real advantage of these robots is in the data they collect. By analyzing massive amounts of data, such as item popularity at a given time of day or in a given shelf location, retailers can gain e-commerce level insights into customer behavior and product trends. Analytics like that helped e-commerce startups topple many brick & mortar giants. Shelf-scanning robots are one way physical retailers are hoping to level the playing field.


Walmart, the largest chain in the world, recently partnered with California-based Bossa Nova to bring shelf-scanning robots to many of its stores.

"The global retail industry is at a critical inflection point," Bruce McWilliams, Bossa Nova president and CEO, told ZDNet back in June. "Today's retail powerhouses require accurate, real-time product information to create a seamless omnichannel shopping experience expected by all customers. Bossa Nova's technology gives retailers a data-rich and dynamic foundation to transform their store operations."

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Bossa Nova has raised more than $100 million.

The partnership between Simbe and Decathlon USA is another sign that robots are on their way to a retailer near you. Decathlon USA is building its IT infrastructure from the ground up and incorporating full-stack advanced technology in an attempt to streamline its operations as much as possible in order to compete with digital. Simbe's Tally robot, which can scan 700 RFID tagged per second with near-perfect accuracy, is a crucial ingredient in that effort.

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Innovative technologies, like RFID and computer vision, are starting to become more mainstream as retailers think about how they can optimize in-store operations," said Durgesh Tiwari, Simbe's Vice President of Research and Development, back in July. "Tally's ability to read RFID is providing unprecedented product and inventory insights by harmoniously using RFID and computer vision."

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