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Robots may become an everyday part of our lives sooner than you think.
The reason for this, interestingly, comes from an area of technology you would never expect: video games. Microsoft's Xbox Kinect, to be specific.
As you probably already know just from TV commercials advertising it, the Kinect unit allows Xbox users to interact with the video games using their bodies. The Kinect unit tracks the player's body movements in 3D and translates them into actions on the screen.
According to a recent story in WIRED magazine, however, “roboticists saw something else entirely: an affordable, lightweight camera that could capture 3-D images in real time,” making it a low-cost guidance system.
Now on YouTube one can find a variety of videos showing robots using the Kinect unit to "see" by creating an interface between the Kinect unit and the robot's CPU.
Of course, these home-built units are very simple, but with the speed in which technology progresses, we can expect more sophisticated verisons being developed in the near future.
How would you use a robot in your stores? Here are a few functions I've thought of, many of which could be combined into one unity:
Greeter: Moving around the entrance of the store and welcoming shoppers as they enter, telling them about some of the day’s specials.
Roving demo station: This would be an ideal use for a very simple robot that only requires a flat surface to display the product demonstrated. It can be programmed to ask nearby shoppers if they'd like to try a sample.
Flyer distribution. The same robot can be used to hand out flyers and promotions throughout the store.
Product locator: This robot not only tells the shopper where she can find a product, but literally guidea the shopper to it.
Assisting with shelf stocking: Associates simply place a case of the item to stock on the robot, scan one of the items, and the robot brings it to the location on the shelf to be stocked.
Out of stock monitor: With this function, the robot scans shelves as it makes its way through the store to look for holes inn the product facings. Where one is found, it scans the shelf tag, then heads to the back room to pick up the product. At the same time, an alert is sent to the back room so that the product can be pulled from inventory.
Mobile deli ordering kiosk and delivery: Not only can shoppers place their order via this function, but the robot will actually pick it up and deliver it to the shopper in the aisle.
What types of functions do you envision store-based robots having. Email your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll include the most interesting picks in our next newsletter!