Shufersal mulls robots in supermarkets

Trax robot / Photo: Trax

Israel's largest retail food chain, is considering deploying robots nationally in its branches this year, sources inform "Globes."

Does meeting robots in a supermarket sound like science fiction? It could happen very soon. Shufersal Ltd. (TASE:SAE), Israel's largest retail food chain, is considering deploying robots nationally in its branches this year, sources inform "Globes."

The robots in question are produced by startup Trax. One is already operating as a pilot in Shufersal's branch in the Azrieli Tel Aviv mall. It keeps track of inventory on the shelves and streamlines its resupply and management.

Six months after the robot began operating in the branch, Shufersal is considering expanding the robots' presence to more branches all around the country. Trax, which is developing the robots, believes that deployment will take place this year in the chain's large branches, while Shufersal declined to comment on the matter.

Shufersal, managed by CEO Itzik Abercohen, began the pilot for using a robot to manage and monitor the inventory on its shelves six months ago, together with a smart system of cameras. A more sophisticated and smarter version, however, named Yigal, is now under consideration. Up until recently, the robot operated only when the store was closed to customers, or when accompanied its operators. The plan now is to make the robot more independent.

With its improved technology, the new robot will facilitate smarter information gathering within stores. It is capable of "seeing" into the depth of the shelf even with poor lighting, and can even see inventory when products are behind each other. The new robots make it possible to take a picture between the shelves, even under difficult conditions, and to look inside with high resolution, in addition to reading the price or bargain labels on the shelves.

Trax VP global retail practice Shlomi Dayan told "Globes," "In the current year, we'll start seeing more and more robots moving around Shufersal's branches, at this stage mostly in the large branches, not the neighborhood ones."

According to Dayan, robots are becoming more accepted in large stores, while camera technology is more convenient to use in smaller stores.

Dayan adds that in the future, robots will also take part directly in improving customer service in order to provide services such as providing information about prices and location of products.

Robot activity in branches

Cooperation between Shufersal, with its 365 branches, and Trax, which develops computer vision technology and analysis of data from physical stores, began a year ago, based on Trax's two technologies.

How does this actually work? A robot navigates in the store and physically maps the branch, photographing categories between two and four times a day. The data gathered is sent to the cloud, where it undergoes a process of photograph identification, after which the chain receives information about consumption figures for customers in real time, including alerts to the storeroom about what is missing and where.

Both the robots and the cameras are capable of supplying data about inventory taking and marking the shelf that is almost empty. The chain plans on upgrading the system later, so that it will be capable of receiving data about the existing inventory, both on shelves and in the storeroom.

Customers' privacy

For Shufersal, the technology shortens the time when goods are missing from the shelves. The company estimates that it improves the availability of products by 5%. According to Trax, because of privacy issues and regulation in Europe, the robots and cameras do not photograph people.

Shufersal's new operation comes on top of the development of another technology recently installed by the chain with another technology company - Trigo Vision, which is operating a pilot store without checkout counters or cashiers, similar to Amazon's technology in Amazon Go stores.

Shufersal is not the only one installing innovative technology in its physical stores. Super-Pharm recent reported that it had begun a pilot with a robot pharmacist in its pharmacies.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 5, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Trax robot / Photo: Trax
Trax robot / Photo: Trax
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018