With 2020 in the rear-view mirror, the world turns its focus to 2021 and the challenges of adapting to the new world created by last year’s global events.
As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic with varying degrees of success, the way we shop for groceries, clothes and other items has changed dramatically. Even as brick-and-mortar stores re-open for foot traffic, shoppers continue to buy items online, or shift their pickup to “buy online, pick up in store” and contact-free, curbside delivery.
For example, at a local Target near us, they’ve replaced the snack bar area with rows of shelves to store these pickup-in-store orders, but unfortunately the speed and efficiency of receiving your orders is not an improvement versus just walking through the store yourself and grabbing what you need on your “Target run.”
The problem lies in the method that physical stores are taking in filling orders - it’s the same that many distribution centers and warehouses employed when they didn’t have robots (or those warehouses that have yet to deploy them). A store receives an order, sending an associate out into the store to fill the order with a cart. The associate then returns to the front, where the items are placed on a shelf waiting for the customer to arrive.
Smarter, autonomous robots, have been developed over the past five years thanks to advances in mobile computing, sensors and AI. Many of these robots are now being deployed to assist in the fight against COVID-19 in an effort to “flatten the curve” of cases or provide human-augmented services for companies providing essential functions.