- Ahold Delhaize has partnered with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to fund a robotics research program that will develop and test innovations in the burgeoning field, according to a news release. The partnership is an expansion of the retailer’s Artificial Intelligence for Retail (AIR) Lab, which launched earlier this year.
- As part of the arrangement, Ahold Delhaize will open a site where researchers and other stakeholders can test prototypes that explore various retail functions, including gripping fruits and vegetables and improving recognition of certain products. The facility will come online early next year, according to the company.
- "The rapid advancements in AI and robotics provide us with significant opportunities to make everyday shopping even easier for our customers and develop new solutions for our warehouses and last-mile delivery,” Frans Muller, president and CEO of Ahold Delhaize, said in a statement.
There’s been a lot of action lately in retail robotics, from high-tech helpers that check shelf stocks to those that scurry about in micro-fulfillment centers assembling online orders.
As the science of robotics advances and develops more industry applications, grocers stand to improve accuracy and save money over the long run by delegating routine, repetitive tasks to these machines. The upfront cost can be considerable, but the savings and improved execution promise to make the investment worthwhile.
With this new partnership, Ahold Delhaize could find itself at the forefront of the robotics movement. The retailer will have first dibs on anything developed at the research facility. The question is, will RoboValley — the name of the robotics research center established by Delft University — be able to keep pace with Silicon Valley?
Ahold Delhaize’s technology focus has already yielded a “tap and go” technology that allows shoppers to skip the checkout line. The new capability will soon be on display in all Albert Heijn To Go convenience stores in the Netherlands, and could eventually make its way to the U.S. as Amazon Go and its imitators continue to expand.
Meanwhile, Ahold Delhaize’s artificial intelligence lab, launched in April, is exploring applications ranging from customer chat functions to supply chain management. It’s not difficult to imagine this division and the robotics team combining to move the needle even further on store technology.
As robotics advance at retail, grocers will have to bring customers along as well. When Schnucks announced its test run of aisle-scanning robots last year, the company got some blowback from shoppers who believed Tally, the robot developed by Simbe Robotics that would glide up and down aisles checking stock levels, would replace human workers.
In a recent interview with Grocery Dive, Dave Steck, Schnucks vice president of IT infrastructure and app development said the company invited the media inside its test stores, and in interviews made sure to note Tally wasn’t taking anyone’s job. The concerns eventually subsided.
“We really tried to control the message,” Steck said.