For a long time, robots were strictly for science fiction novels and futuristic movies, but recently, they have been added to our daily lives.
Alexa and Siri are household names, a large portion of manufacturing and factory assembling is done by robots, and they are even used for space exploration. And even more recently, robots have been used in grocery stores. The COVID-19 pandemic made it so that using robots to do the shopping for other people was safer than having humans, who may be infected with the disease, do the same tasks. A lot of success has been garnered from the use of robots, so their prevalence in grocery stores has grown throughout several different regions, and for several different purposes.
Automated Robot Warehouses
Just a few weeks ago, Kroger, one of the biggest grocery store chains in the country, opened the first automated warehouse in the country in Monroe, Ohio. The warehouse is 335,000 square feet and will serve as a customer fulfillment center, which means the robots will put together Clicklist orders and other online requests from customers. While it has previously taken a human Kroger employee half an hour to forty-five minutes to assemble one of these orders, in this new warehouse, a robot can put together a 50-item order in a mere six minutes.
That is an incredible difference in time, which will help Kroger be more efficient and productive. The warehouse is in partnership with Ocado, an online grocery retailer, and there are plans to build 20more of these robot warehouses around the United States. This would dramatically change the way customers’ orders are put together, and decrease the amount of time fulfilling orders will take.
Sorting and Stocking
Besides customer fulfillment, and putting together orders, some of the biggest responsibilities of the robots at grocery stores are sorting items and inventory that come to the store, and stocking them on the shelves. Sorting out the items is a job that a robot can easily be programmed for, as is the manual labor of putting the food, drinks, toys, clothes, and more on the shelves where they belong.
At Schnucks Market, a grocery store chain in the midwest United States, there are robots that can scan the shelves and report which items are out of stock, or perhaps are not placed where they should be. The robots’ ability to do simple tasks like sorting, stocking, bagging, and delivering help businesses tremendously, because they can now devote their human employees to tasks like customer service and actual sale of merchandise, things that robots can’t automatically do.
Cleaning and Disinfecting
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of robots in grocery stores has expanded to cleaning and disinfecting shelves, floors, and other areas of the grocery store. The robots can work overnight to devote the time and effort to more thorough cleaning that humans can’t, which allows customers to feel safer and helps the human workers at the grocery store to spend more time on fulfilling orders and working with customers, and less on cleaning responsibilities.
Over the past few years, grocery stores around the United States have been integrating robots into more and more of their daily operations. Robots now work to fulfill online customer orders, deliver those orders, sort, and stock a variety of items across the store, and even clean and disinfect the grocery. While it’s not likely you’ll be dodging robots in the aisles as you shop anytime soon, you can be sure that they’ll be doing a lot more work behind the scenes.