Slimmed down robot stalks stores, stocks shelves

You're probably going to have an awkward shopping encounter with this robot in the near future.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

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. Aiding that push, Bossa Nova, one of the leaders in the space, is unveiling a new robot, the Bossa Nova 2020.

It can be tough to wrap your mind around the need to employ robots in a role that's often occupied by teens with scanner guns. At a basic level, certainly, shelf scanning robots do much the same job, roaming stores and quickly scanning merchandise on shelves using machine vision or RFID readers to help retailers keep track of inventory.

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 significant insights into customer behavior and product trends. Analytics like that helped e-commerce startups topple many brick & mortar giants, and shelf-scanning robots have become a way for physical retailers to level the playing field.

Walmart is just one of the brick-and-mortar giants to embrace the technology. The retail giant has partnered with Bossa Nova to bring robots into several of its stores.

But Bossa Nova's newest robot seems more a gambit to bring autonomous shelf-scanning technology to smaller stores. Bossa Nova 2020's slimmer form factor is designed to navigate the narrow aisles and openings of medium and small-format stores. By expanding analytics capabilities into fresh food, frozen food, and apparel departments, it's the first solution in the retail industry to provide inventory insights for the entire store. 

The robot's advanced, smart 2D camera system combined with an AI stack was designed to capture and deliver data to retailers, including in the most high-value areas in the store. The company redesigned the camera to see further in the shelf, so retailers can capture more information with each pass of the aisle. Once images are captured, Bossa Nova 2020 processes them in the camera before sending the resulting panorama to the cloud for final analysis, enabling real-time insights.

"After six years of retail experience, we're taking a bold step by opening access to new footprints and expanding inventory insights to the entire store," says Sarjoun Skaff, chief technology officer at Bossa Nova. "By giving medium and small-format retailers real-time visibility into inventory insights like missing and mispriced items, we're enabling them to streamline operations and create a better, more personalized customer experience. These new capabilities also set the stage for Bossa Nova to expand globally."

Reduced maintenance will also be a draw for smaller retailers. The robot includes integrated self-testing and monitoring, and robot health is regularly measured and reported to retailers to reduce unnecessary interventions.

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