- Badger Technologies, maker of the "Marty" robots that are currently in around 500 Ahold Delhaize stores, announced a partnership with AT&T to equip retail robots with 5G technology. The companies are currently testing 5G connectivity with Badger's autonomous robots at AT&T’s Foundry innovation center.
- Badger Technologies' robots perform repeatable tasks like scanning shelf stock and checking for spills, but the advanced data collection they require can strain stores' Wi-Fi networks, the company says.
- With 5G capabilities, robots should be able to deliver information faster and operate concurrently with other in-store network applications, without disruptions to network connectivity.
The goal of equipping robots with 5G, according to Badger Technologies CEO Tim Rowland, is to make operations more efficient and consistent and to improve customer service.
"By alleviating in-store connectivity and processing constraints with 5G, Badger’s multi-purpose robots can become the ultimate multitaskers," Rowland told Grocery Dive in an email.
Wi-Fi access points, which Badger's in-store robots currently rely on for connectivity, can typically handle about 250 users without degrading service. Equipping the bots with 5G will ensure there's no slowdown or loss of connectivity, the company noted. 5G is reportedly 10 times faster than 4G and can handle millions of users, Phillip Hartfield, AT&T's general manager of retail industry marketing, told Grocery Dive in an email.
In addition to speed and efficiency, another benefit to the 5G wireless network is that it provides a more private network connection than those typically available for in-store Wi-Fi. This will ultimately ensure that Badger Technologies can better control the data its robots collect, which should address retailers’ concerns over privacy and security, the companies said.
Deploying robots with 5G capabilities is an ambitious undertaking and for the most part, still in the early stages across industries. Once it’s refined and widely available, 5G could transform the use of robotics across industries from retail and agriculture to manufacturing and healthcare, experts say.
Grocers like Walmart, Schnucks and Ahold Delhaize are turning to robots to handle rote, repetitive tasks like checking shelf levels while allowing employees to perform more customer-facing duties. The technology can boost accuracy and promises to save money over time, but it's still very much in testing mode. Reports note that employees and customers have had a difficult time interacting with the robots.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Phillip Hartfield's role at AT&T. He is the general manager of retail industry marketing.