Badger Technologies announced yesterday that its shelf-scanning robots will be roaming the aisles of Woodman’s Markets throughout Wisconsin and Illinois come the end of the year.
According to a press release sent to The Spoon, the robots will “monitor product availability, verify prices and deliver precise location data for more than 100,000 items at each location.” The plan is for the robots to be present in all 18 Woodman’s locations by the end of 2020.
The last time we wrote about Badger was January of 2019, when Ahold Delhaize ordered 500 of them for its GIANT/MARTIN and Stop & Shop stores. Those robots however, were being brought on to detect spills and other messes. (The robots didn’t even clean those up, they just alerted staff when there was a mess.)
Unlike that previous use case, Woodman’s, is using Badger’s robots to help automate inventory management. Woodman’s is far from the only store using robots for this purpose. Giant Eagle and Schnuck’s stores use Simbe Robotics’ Tally robot. And Walmart expanded the use of Bossa Nova’s shelf-scanning robot to 300 locations last year.
Pre-COVID, robots in grocery stores were seen as a threat to human jobs. Retailers like Walmart typically defended the increased automation because robots can do the manual, repetitive tasks — like monitoring inventory on store shelves — faster and more accurately than a human. Badger claims that its robots can detect out-of-stock items with more than 95 percent accuracy, and incorrect or mispriced products with 90 percent accuracy. Additionally, robots can work all day without getting and don’t need to take breaks.
During and post-COVID, however, those labor arguments may be shunted to the side as retailers and customers alike seek to cut down person-to-person interactions. Robots don’t get sick, don’t cough and can be easily sanitized by wiping them down.
Another argument in favor of more robots could be more accurate, real-time inventory data for stores and customers. With a robot roaming the aisles providing more precise item stocking information, retailers can better manage product flow and provide more accurate inventory data for people shopping online (which is happening in record numbers).
Robots are having a bit of a moment, thanks to this pandemic. Elsewhere today, online grocer FreshDirect announced a robot-powered micro-fulfillment center that is being built out by Fabric. With the coronavirus surging and re-surging around the world, robots and automation are likely to continue their march into retail throughout the rest of this year and into next.