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07/01/2022

Walmart, H&M, Dragonfly Kitchen ‘race with the machines’

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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‘Cat robots’ ease the workload of human servers at Dragonfly Kitchen.

Retailers are discovering that technology and humans work best when they work together.

A growing number of retailers are using technology to complement, rather than replace, human employees. This strategy, which has enabled teams comprised of human chess players working with computers to beat both human and computer opponents working alone, has been dubbed “racing with the machine” by MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson.  

Here are three examples of retailers racing with the machines to maximize investments in both employees and technology solutions.

Walmart provides interactive driver app
Walmart is addressing an industry-wide truck driver shortage with innovative technology.The discount giant is implementing two technology tools that work together to enhance its driver experience.

In collaboration with Platform Science, every Walmart private fleet cab is now equipped with an intuitive, interactive tablet device that fully integrates with NTransit, a proprietary driver workflow application.

Using the Platform Science telematics infrastructure solution to deploy the NTransit app, Walmart provides near-real-time visibility of assets within the fleet to ensure freight arrives on time and in the correct location. As a result, stores can better anticipate load arrival times and more effectively plan and schedule labor around deliveries.

As a result, Walmart intends to improve shelf stocking levels and provide customers with a more accurate inventory of products available for purchase online.

In addition, Walmart will leverage the new onboard technology to help drivers communicate more closely with stores. As the driver approaches a store, geolocation technology detects the driver’s location, sending push notifications to store associate handheld devices, allowing them to plan for a faster unload and turnaround. The retailer can also deploy secure audio messages directly with drivers to ensure they receive important information while they are in the field.

H&M streamlines fulfillment with robotics
Global fashion giant H&M is increasing the efficiency of online order fulfillment by leveraging robotic fulfillment systems from warehouse automation provider GreyOrange alongside warehouse employees. In a recent exclusive interview with Chain Store Age, Pascal Faessler, head of Logistics Americas at H&M, explained the retailer’s decision to deploy this technology.

“Utilizing robotics in our warehouse facilities to complement our many talented employees is one way we can create a more streamlined service and increase our performance,” said Faessler. 

In its warehouses, H&M leverages GreyOrange robots to perform a wide variety of tasks. These include handling folded inventory and goods on hangar, as well as cross-channel inventory conversion through intelligent recall and re-slotting features. The robots also perform parallel batch picking, which allows picking of multiple orders simultaneously.

“Combined with our skilled distribution center employees, our partnership is making it possible to continually exceed our customers’ expectations,” stated Faessler.

Dragonfly Kitchen rolls out ‘cat robots’
Robotic cats that help serve food are one aspect of a New Jersey-based casual-dining chain’s strategy to beat rising operational costs. In an exclusive interview with Chain Store Age, Ching Ho, CEO of Dragonfly Brands, explained how the operator of two Dragonfly Kitchen restaurants in New Jersey is partially automating its store environment to enable profitability.

Dragonfly Kitchen decided to control expenses by utilizing innovative automation technology in key areas of the business. Most notably, the company deployed interactive service robots with animated cat faces from Pudutech. The robots run appetizers and drinks to tables, guided by lasers and lights with object avoidance programming.

“The cat robots do not replace staff,” said Ho. “They reduce the number of trips a server has to make to the table by supporting chore work. We now only have to dedicate two employees to running appetizers and drinks instead of three. For main entrees, we still use a human runner.”

The cat robots deliver other benefits, according to Ho. “The robots make sounds and faces like a cat,” he said. “They’re tactile. If you rub their ears, they purr like a cat. Kids love them.”

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