From robotics, to blockchain transactions, to VR and AR-enhanced experiences, and more – meet 10 companies transforming the way we shop.
Despite the explosion in online shopping, physical retail still reigns supreme. According to the Commerce Department online only accounts for about 12% of sales, leaving the rest to be made up by physical stores. And though online shopping is gradually gaining on traditional shopping, there are many companies devoted to enhancing and streamlining the brick and mortar experience. Whether it’s a Black Friday rush or just running an errand, technology is bringing some big changes to retail in the coming years.
Here are 10 companies whose technologies will transform the way we shop.
Santa Clara, Calif. startup AiFi is using artificial intelligence to fully automate the retail experience. Using off-the-shelf cameras, the company’s Open Autonomous Store Infrastructure and Services (OASIS) technology is able to track individual consumers through a store as well as the items they pick up off the shelf. Simply walk into the store, grab what you want, walk out, and the store will charge you for what you’ve taken via a mobile app. AiFi is looking to automate larger stores and is also creating “nano-store” – automated kiosks that sit in airports and neighborhoods.
For more on AiFi and its technology read our feature on the company.
(Image source: AiFi)
Bossa Nova is a combination robotics and AI analytics company. First spun off from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2005, the company made headlines when it began supplying autonomous shelf-scanning robots to Walmart stores in the US in 2017. The company’s robot, the Auto-S, roams store aisles scanning and tracking inventory – all while avoiding obstacles and customers. In 2019 Walmart expanded its partnership with Bossa Nova, pledging to place Auto-S robots in 350 stores. Bossa Nova says its newest robot, which will be releasing in 2020 will be slimmer and feature advanced cameras and sensors for more accurate tracking and performance.
(Image source: Bossa Nova Robotics)
San Diego’s Brain Corp is introducing autonomous floor cleaning robots into retail stores. Similar to the Roomba, these robots are able to navigate retail spaces and work alongside store employees. The company’s proprietary operating system, BrainOS, is a cloud-based OS for controlling autonomous cleaning robots, and for adding autonomy to existing machines. The company has over 3,000 industrial cleaning robots currently deployed in retail. Robots that use BrainOS include: Whiz, a robotic vacuum from Softbank Robotics; the ICE RS26 industrial floor care robot (shown above) manufactured by Intelligent Cleaning Equipment (ICE); and the Minutemen Roboscrub 20.
(Image source: Intelligent Cleaning Equipment / Brain Corp)
Cybera works behind the scenes of retail and offers IoT solutions to smaller businesses that may not be able to take advantage of more expensive technologies such as robotics or augmented reality. The company says that its software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) platform can be a great equalizer for smaller retailers looking to compete with major e-commerce stores. By separating at network’s hardware from its control mechanism, Cybera’s SD-WAN platform lowers time-to-market and decreases networking costs – enabling smaller retailers to implement new IT technologies on a tighter budget.
(Image source: Cybera)
With the added security benefits along with the use of digital currency, blockchain and retail seem like a match made in heaven. DLT Labs is the developer of DL Asset Track, a blockchain-based application for automating freight and payments. The company recently announced a partnership with Walmart Canada wherein Walmart stores will be using DL Asset Track to to track deliveries, verify transactions, automate payments, and reconcile inventory among stores. Using blockchain’s distributed ledger will allow Walmart securely and easily automate various aspects of its supply chain as well as create a secure and verifiable system of accountability through its network.
(Image source: Walmart Canada)
No self-respecting consumer would ever purchase a vehicle without a test drive. But test drives can also be time consuming and difficult to coordinate with a busy schedule. Atlanta-based FlowFound is betting that virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR) can bridge this gap. The company uses 360-degree video footage to deliver virtual test drives to consumers to allow them to remotely experience what it’s like behind the wheel using either a phone, tablet, or VR headset. The advantage for consumers is being able to at least get a preview of a vehicle before heading down to the dealership. Dealerships like the idea of being able to provide a remote service for potential customers and capture data analytics on the consumer experience. FlowFound is currently working with Ford, BMW, Hyundai, and Lexus among other major automakers.
(Image source: FlowFound)
Human employees are still a valuable part of the retail experience – whether it’s in warehouses or customer-facing roles. Pixvana is a creator of XR (extended reality) platforms targeted at corporate learning and training. The company creates virtual environments and training guides to help warehouse, retail, and other employees achieve better outcomes in their job training. By the time workers show up to work for the first time they’re already familiar with the layout and processes. Pixvana recently announced a partnership with sports and lifestyle gear retailer evo, wherein Pixvana will create an XR platform to train evo’s warehouse employees in anticipation of the Black Friday rush.
(Image source: Pixvana)
Las Vegas-based RocketFuel develops blockchain technologies for ecommerce checkout systems. The company’s main focus is leveraging blockchain to protect consumer data and privacy as more and more retail payments are done via apps and smartphones. Since RocketFuel’s payment rails are purely blockchain-based, it means full checkout platforms can be hosted on third-party websites and even embedded into ads, without the need for a merchant server to capture payment and shipping information.
San Francisco’s Simbe Robotics is the manufacturer of Tally, an autonomous shelf-scanning robot for store inventory tracking and analytics. Tally works on a cloud-based system and doesn’t require infrastructure changes to be implemented into stores. The latest version of Tally also incorporates RFID tracking and machine learning in order to track tagged merchandise in stores in real time. Simbe Robotics’ machines are deployed in retail stores including the Decathlon chain of sporting goods stores (shown above). Tally is also built on the open-source Robot Operating System.
(Image source: Simbe Robotics)
The recent merger between Ultrahaptics and Leap Motion holds promise to transform interactive retail experiences in areas including kiosks, self-checkouts, and more. Ultrahaptics creates a technology that provides mid-air haptic feedback using ultrasonic waves – allowing devices to return a touch sensation to users without the need for gloves or other wearable hardware. With the acquisition of Leap Motion, the company can now integrate its haptic feedback solution with Leap Motion’s hand tracking technology. Imagine, for example, touch-free self-checkouts in stores that allowed you to navigate menus by moving your bare hands through the air and provided haptic feedback for button presses and other actions for improved accuracy.
(Image source: Ultraleap)
Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.