Retail

Autonomous Robots Run the Bar in Las Vegas

Create: 07/20/2017 - 15:54
Tipsy Robot Makr Shakr

Photo: Melanie McMullen

If you have retail customers who sometimes need a hand at the bar, the right solution may (literally) be a hand—a smart robotic one that can mix, stir and shake a customer’s perfect cocktail in a little over a minute. This IoT technology is already on duty at The Tipsy Robot, a bar that opened this summer in the popular Million Mile shopping mall on the Las Vegas strip.

The bartenders there are two robotic arms manufactured by KUKA Robotic Corp. of Germany, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of robot technology and autonomous system engineering solutions. The Tipsy Robot’s design and functionality is powered by Italy’s Makr Shakr, a robotics company that focuses on food and beverage industrial applications. The same robotic duo technology is in use at the bar on four different Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

The KUKA robots are fully customizable. At The Tipsy Robot, the two robotic arms operate independently of one another. The drink-making system is highly efficient: with its staff of two robotic arms and eight employees, the bar can produce 120 drinks per hour and 1,440 drinks in a day.

At the heart of the automated bar installation is a futuristic platform that contains all the required traditional bar systems and utilities. The core structure integrates the robotic arms, along with liquid dispensing systems, garnishes, ice dispensers and all other functions needed to prepare a variety of mixed cocktails.

Drink Up

Here’s how the system works. As a customer walks into the bar, they order their drinks on one of 33 tablets, choosing a specialty cocktail or creating one of their own. Pineapple Planet and Galactic Grapefruit are among the most popular mixed drinks in the eclectic lineup, which includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. All drinks are $14, and the robots don’t accept tips.

The customer’s order and first name appears on a digital screen at the front of the bar, which displays the drink choice and ingredients along with the time estimate for the drinks arrival. One of the robotic arms then pours, mixes, shakes and creates the beverage in about 60 to 90 seconds. The customer pays via the tablet and enters an email address. Once the drink is complete, the customer receives an email with a verification code to release the drink, and the robot slides the drink onto the dispensing platform, where a conveyor belt system slides the drink down the bar for easy customer pickup.

Makr Shakr Tipsy Robot

Photo: Melanie McMullen

In their spare time, the robotic arms slice fruit or dance to the soundtrack of Top 40 hits. Customers can return their empty glasses, which will be rinsed and washed by another robot. The robots are also self-cleaning, to ensure against contamination.

Masters of Technology and Mixology

The Tipsy Robot was brought to life by hospitality industry leader Rino Armeni. Its drink menu and signature robotic cocktails were developed by master mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, who wanted to provide a drink list and allow customers to mix up custom options, creating a highly social, digital environment.

The app is the core of the Tipsy Robot experience. It allows customers to log in, create a user profile, see existing drink recipes or create new ones, and process the order. Ultimately, the customer can share their experience both within the application and on external social platforms. The platform also gathers data and displays real-time statistics via a digital screen in the bar. The data shows the quantity and type of drinks served each day, so customers can see which drinks are the most popular.

Makr Shakr Tipsy Robot

Image: Makr Shakr

The bar’s human staff, known as “Galactic Ambassadors,” help customers interact with the robots and the delivery process. They also snap photos of customers with their drinks for real-time social media posts. The bar also has an old-fashioned, human-operated bar in the corner, in case a customer wants a specific drink not on the robot’s mix list.

A Robot Walks into a Bar

The Tipsy Robot is among a growing list of new consumer and business robots with specific functions. According to BI Intelligence, that segment of the robotics industry is surging. The multibillion-dollar global market for robotics, which has been dominated by industrial and logistics uses, is shifting toward new consumer and business applications, resulting in what may become a $1.5 billion market for consumer and business robots by 2019.

Last-mile Delivery Robots Get Green Light in Five States

Create: 07/10/2017 - 17:58

Photo: Starship Technologies in July 4th parade, Redwood City, CA via @StarshipRobots on Twitter

 

Unmanned delivery robots can make their way over bumps and curbs, but the path to cruising (legally) on the public sidewalk and through the crosswalk has other challenges, including state regulatory approval. Those roadblocks are starting to diminish as Ohio this month became the fifth state to pass a law permitting the use of delivery robots statewide on city-owned sidewalks and crosswalks.

Similar laws have already been passed this year from legislatures in Wisconsin, Idaho, Florida and Virginia. The five states join Washington, D.C., which last year passed special legislation—the Personal Delivery Device Pilot Act of 2016—to allow six-wheeled unmanned devices on the District’s public sidewalks and crosswalks.

London-based Starship Technologies has been integral to getting the new state laws and regulations approved. The company has sent lobbyists to help educate legislators on the technology and champion passage of the laws in D.C. and in all five states.

Unmanned Machines: On a Roll

Starship Technologies is one among several IoT companies that aims to provide a quick, inexpensive, on-demand courier service, allowing retailers to deliver items such as pizza, flowers and groceries to nearby customers. About the size of a rolling cooler, Starship Technologies robots are categorized as unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and are a segment of a larger growing robotics market. Research firm Technavio predicts the overall market for UGVs, mail-sorting robots and drones that deliver products to customers from warehouses or manufacturing locations will expand from $15 million in 2015 to $54 million by 2020.

Currently, Starship Technologies isn’t operating in any of the new states that have passed the robot delivery laws. However, Starship has announced that it intends to begin a pilot in Florida this year. In the United States, it currently has pilot delivery programs operating in Redwood City, CA, and Washington, D.C.

Starship Technologies has also signed an agreement with Domino’s for pizza delivery in selected Dutch and German cities. The company has launched business partnerships in Estonia, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and United States with DoorDash, Hermes Parcel Delivery, Just Eat, Postmates, Swiss Post and Wolt.

Weight and Speed Limits

In Ohio, the new law allows for unmanned machines to operate on sidewalks and in the crosswalks in any city statewide. The robots must weigh less than 90 lbs. and travel at speeds of less than 10 mph. While the robots can move legally without an operator nearby, the law in Ohio requires that a person be in the loop remotely to take over operation in case something goes wrong. The other states have almost identical laws, with weight limits that range from 50 to 90 lbs.

While the Starship robots slip in under the weight limits, some of its competitors will need to slim down to enter the market. For a heavier robot to permanently operate in the five states with the new autonomous machine laws, the manufacturer would need to get a special provision passed by the lawmakers.

The weight limit provision hasn’t created any setbacks, however, to market development and testing. San Francisco-based startup Marble makes a fleet of intelligent courier robots and is currently running a pilot for automated food delivery with Yelp Eat24 in select San Francisco neighborhoods.

IoT robots

Photo: Marble.io

The Marble robots are a bit larger and heavier than Starship’s machines. The Marble machine uses on-board lidar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors, as well as Nvidia’s Jetson TX1 AI supercomputers to sense the environment around them. Structurally, the entire back section of the Marble delivery robot can be swapped out, as the company has announced that it plans to offer “temperature control” services, turning its robots into roving ovens or refrigerators.

Another contender in the last-mile delivery market is Dispatch, based in South San Francisco. Its first vehicle, nicknamed Carry, has four compartments that can carry a total of 100 lbs. Dispatch launched its pilot programs at Menlo College and CSU Monterey Bay, CA, using the device to deliver students their mail, packages and other things. Students can track Carry’s location and get notified when it arrives. Once the robot rolls up, students can unlock and access their package using their mobile phones.

Photo: Dispatch

The Dispatch robot is engineered to complete multiple deliveries per trip. It was built purposely heavy enough so that it would take two people to pick it up, making it next to impossible for one person to easily steal it in an urban or college environment. Carry connects to a 4G network for accurate location tracking for the operator and the recipient of the payload.

Hit the Streets with Autonomous Delivery Technology

  • Learn more about Dispatch delivery robots or watch Carry make a delivery.
  • Information and specs on the Starship Technologies robots are available at www.starship.xyz/.
  • Read about Marble’s plans for developing its fleet of intelligent courier robots.
  • To understand the state regulations currently in place for the robots, read Virginia’s SB 1207, “Electric personal delivery devices, operation on sidewalks and shared-use paths.” 

Order Up: Digital Kiosks Coming to Fast Food Restaurants

Create: 06/28/2017 - 20:56
payment order kiosks

Photo: McDonaldsblog.in

Consumers have a growing appetite for all things digital—shopping, texting, and ordering and buying food. While robots and digital tools have already started serving coffee, tossing salads and mixing custom-blend sodas, their next assignment includes a larger deployment to serve the hungry masses in fast food chains, including the golden arches of McDonald’s.

In a recent report, New York City-based investment firm Cowan states that McDonald’s new Experience of the Future (EOTF) strategy includes replacing cashiers in at least 2,500 restaurants with digital ordering kiosks by the end of 2017, and installing another 3,000 kiosks in its restaurants by 2018.

Cowan analysts state that “McDonald’s is cultivating a digital platform through mobile ordering and EOTF, an in-store technological overhaul most conspicuous through kiosk ordering and table delivery.” McDonald’s is quick to point out that even though it is adding ordering kiosks, the transformation won’t result in mass layoffs in its restaurants. Instead, it plans to move some cashiers to other parts of the restaurant where it will add new jobs, including table service.

Automation and digital cashiers are good for the bottom line, as they speed up the ordering process and can reduce customer wait times. In some cases, the automation tools are a customer draw themselves. The Pyramid Ale Tap Room in the Oakland International airport, for example, reported a 17 percent bump in sales after partnering with Pepper. The robot can recommend drinks, answer customer questions and take orders.

Pepper robot

Photo: Softbank Robotics @SBRAmerica via Twitter

Going McDigital

Cowan notes that with the addition of more “Big Mac ATMs” that serve as digital cashiers, McDonald’s will have significant cost savings and greater ROI. Its restaurants that have already been transformed to the EOTF design model—which includes the kiosks—have experienced a 5 percent to 6 percent lift in sales in the first year after the remodel, and a 2 percent lift in the second year, according to Cowen analyst Andrew Charles.

In addition to the kiosks, McDonald’s plans to roll out a mobile ordering platform across 20,000 of its largest U.S. locations by the end of 2017. By enabling mobile order and pay through the McDonald’s app, customers can personalize their order while skipping the drive-thru line, and/or choose curbside delivery. If customers choose drive-thru in the app, they will read their order code (generated from the app) to the crew, and their mobile order will be ready for pickup at the window.

The goal for these enhancements is to speed up the ordering process and allow more customers to pass through McDonald’s drive-thrus. The company has not announced any specific manufacturer or partner for its EOTF technology implementation.

Using the Internet of Things to Pay for Things

McDonald’s may be picking up on a larger trend—customers prefer digital over human cashiers. A study released in June by Visa and PYMNTS.com, “How We Will Pay,” reports that 80 percent of Americans have a strong interest in using connected devices, including IoT devices, watches and mobile apps, to make purchases.

The study adds that 75 percent of consumers have at least one connected device, in addition to their smartphones, computers or tablets. Almost 83 percent recognize those devices as saving time and reducing friction when making purchases, subsequently creating an unattended checkout experience, regardless of device or platform. This seamless purchase experience is of interest to all respondents surveyed, with auto-pay at the gas pump and in-store automated purchasing topping the list.

See What’s Cooking in Digital Ordering

  • Access the full report and key stats from, “How We Will Pay: Consumers, Connected Devices, and the Future of Payments.”
  • Take a look at the 360 degree view  of McDonald’s restaurant of the future.

IoT Tees Up on the Golf Course

Create: 06/27/2017 - 15:41

Photo credit: Game Golf

 

Technology can be a game changer. For golfers, new IoT technology is literally changing their game, as professional and recreational golfers alike are turning to IoT sensors, digital course mapping and data analytics to get a better understanding of their performance on the course and ultimately lower their score. 

One of the first pieces of technology developed for golfers is ShotLink, a platform created for the PGA Tour that is used for collecting and disseminating scoring and statistical data on every player shot, in real time. Powered by CDW, the ShotLink system launched way back in 1983 and has the honor of being the sport’s first electronic scoreboard. At that time, it had a proprietary data collection device and was powered by two mini-computers.

Now, the system uses sophisticated imaging and data collection tools. CDW’s vision for ShotLink is to "turn data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into entertainment." Along with the PGA Tour, ShotLink is used on the Champions Tour and 93 other golf events each year. The system tracks approximately 1.3 million golf shots per year.

Here’s how ShotLink works. Each golf course is mapped prior to the event, so a digital image of each hole is used as background information. The system uses the digital image to calculate exact locations and distances between any two coordinates, such as the tee box and the player’s first shot, or the shot location and the location of the hole.

ShotLink IoT on the golfcourse

Photo: PGA Tour via @ShotLink on Twitter

ShotLink provides its real-time shot measurement data to various sources, including on-site television broadcasts, PGATour.com, players and coaches, and mobile devices. The data is also used by golf course architects when they are evaluating course changes.

Data on the Green and the Screen

The ShotLink platform connects to LED scoreboards scattered throughout each golf course during tournaments. The scoreboards have full access to the complete ShotLink dataset. They display leaderboards and keep fans informed about which groups are coming up next on each hole, and they display a level of detail about the individual player's performance. The scoreboard, for example, can display the distance to pin, lie description and which shot number a player is hitting for each golfer in the group. The scoreboard allows fans to keep track of what the top five players on the leaderboard are doing at any time on the course. The scoreboards also display who's hitting the longest drives or making the longest putts on a given hole.

ShotLink Scoreboard IoT on the golfcourse

Photo: The Players Championship via @ShotLink on Twitter

ShotLink uses custom software to deliver content to the LED scoreboards and other applications over the on-course network. This allows the scoreboard and apps to receive and display scoring and statistical data in real time.

Upping the Game for Amateurs

Using the same data model as ShotLink, developer John McGuire launched a similar platform for amateurs, called Game Golf. Like ShotLink, which uses lasers mounted around the course to track shots, the Game Golf tracking system is nonintrusive. McGuire, now the CEO of the Game Golf, told Intel iQ that he built the system “to help players forget that their every movement was being tracked.”

To do that, he teed up the IoT. The system uses a belt-mounted device, or an app on a golfer’s smartphone and small 1 oz. tags attached to the end of each club. At the end of a round, a golfer can see how they did with a dashboard of pro-level statistics, including stroke distance, stroke trajectory and how often the ball hits the green.

Game Golf is collecting a huge body of data from users and has millions of shots already on file, which makes for some interesting analysis. “The data doesn’t lie,” says McGuire. “It shows a golfer’s tendencies in different situations.”

One observation the company reports is that many amateur golfers need to reconsider their equipment choice as they approach the green. “Our data shows that 94 percent of golfers under-club,” says McGuire. “Most golfers hit the club they chose well, but still come up short. That’s because they had the wrong club selection.”

Game Golf isn’t alone in tracking every blade of golf data for competitors. The new Garmin Approach® S6 watch uses GPS to measure individual swing metrics and provides a high-resolution, touchscreen course view that includes full-color course maps.

While all these products may (or may not) improve a player’s score, they are showing that IoT technology could be the new ace in the hole for sports technology innovation.

Get in the Game

  • To learn more about other IoT tech putting around on golf courses, read the blog, “Swing! Golf Tech to Perfect Your Game” on Intel iQ.
  •  See the IoT technology including the watch and wearables used by Game Golf.
  •  Learn about the ShotLink data collection platform and network technology.

Using IoT to Wow In-Store Shoppers

Create: 06/14/2017 - 15:22
Sanbot IoT retail

The in-store shopping experience has gone into the changing room and emerged with a whole new wardrobe. Technologies such as AI, digital signage, smart mirrors, mobile apps, robotic assistants and mobile POS devices are becoming the new items of a highly responsive and personalized in-store customer experience. Brick and mortar stores are staying relevant by meeting customers on their own terms and using smart technology that drive sales and increase in-store efficiency.

“This could be the year when many of the technologies that have been in startup mode will begin to become reality,” says Matthew Shaw, CEO of the National Retail Federation in a report from Intel. “AI and virtual reality might not be taking over completely, but they are starting to emerge. And we are at the point where consumer expectations are rising and influencing how retailers who want to stay on top must interact with their customers.”  

According to the Intel report, the golden key to more sales is for solution providers to help retailers bring together different IoT technologies and systems to improve efficiency and deliver a modern, personalized experience for customers. Intel predicts that by 2018, retailers and solution providers engaged in IoT partnerships with major manufacturers “will take significant market share from competitors.”  

Shailesh Chaudhry, director of business strategy for retail at Intel, cites AI as one of the technologies that is going to be a foundational technology for the future of retail. “Knowing what customers are interested in, getting those products in front of them at the right time and removing all friction from the sale requires a powerful mix of connected devices and analytics software,” he says.  

“We see lots of islands of technology,” says Chaudhry, including beacons, RFID, sensors, cameras and POS systems. “They’re all generating data, but today they all exist in silos.”

IoT technology and advanced analytics allow retailers to gather the important stats on shoppers. For instance, RFID and video data can be a useful combo. With RFID alone, stores get insights about products, such as their location, where they have been moved or if they’re in the wrong place on the shelf. By combining RFID data with video, stores can see if customers are picking up a particular product—which typically means they are considering it for purchase.

“If (the store) can share that insight with a sales associate, then when they approach a customer, they will be able to make a recommendation about a product that is consistent with their style and preference,” notes Chaudhry.

A Virtual Sales Assist

Finding the right combination of in-store technology can change the game, especially with new product rollouts. Jose Avalos, vice president of visual retail at Intel, points out the importance of digital signage in helping a customer find information in a grocery store, a place where an alarmingly high 90 percent of new products fail. “What if we integrate digital signage directly into the shelves, so a consumer can come in, learn about a new product, understand what the benefits are and see what recipes they can create?”

Digital assistants armed with useful information are showing up in many forms, including digital kiosks as well as robots with on-board touchscreens to help consumers find and select products. One example is Sanbot, a Chinese company that manufacturers a cloud-enabled service robot and a Multi-Service Platform System (MPS) for retail. With MPS, retail businesses can customize and create tasks for each Sanbot robot on a PC, tablet or smartphone and distribute them to a fleet of Sanbots over the cloud. The robot includes a voice interaction system and can display information on its high-definition tablet or via sophisticated laser projection. It can offer shoppers special deals and provide information about the store, including inventory location. The company cites an example in a bookstore, where Sanbot greets customers and helps them locate the book of their choice and also recommends related books coming out soon.

Sanbot IoT retail

Photo: Sanbot

Visualizing with AR

Another emerging digital assist technology is augmented reality, which can give sales staff a new level of data intelligence. A sales associate, for example, could wear a pair of glasses that gives them a continuous stream of real-time, relevant information without ever having to look at a device.

AR makeup mirrors from Japan’s skin care manufacturer Shiseido are already in use at high-end cosmetic counters. These “magic mirrors” help women find the right shade of makeup—and see how it looks—before they commit to a purchase. The store associate uses the AR makeup mirror to take an image of a shopper’s face, so the customer can see exactly what each hue will look like once applied. This process takes much less time than a sales associate who has to reapply dozens of individual makeup test colors. 

IoT retail Shiseido

Photo: Shiseido/Lifestyleasia.com

Furniture store IKEA also has an augmented reality catalog that enables shoppers to visualize how certain pieces of furniture could look inside their home. The app measures the size of the products against the surrounding room and fixtures to offer a true-to-life size, whenever possible.

Gartner predicts that by 2023, 25 percent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual assistant technologies of some variety, including AR or robotics. This estimate is up from less than 2 percent last year.

“There is so much information that sales associates have to learn about—products, features, and customers—that it’s not humanly possible for them to remember all of that, no matter how much training they have,” says Chaudhry. He notes that with the right data and IoT tools, the average hourly store employee can become a retailer’s well-informed sales associate, which helps customers and owners alike.

Upscale Your Retail Customers

Food Service Robot Mixes Perfect Salad in 60 Seconds

Create: 05/24/2017 - 18:04
Chowbotics IoT robot

Photo: Chowbotics

 

Sally the salad-making robot has arrived, and she may be the next big thing that can satisfy your customers’ hunger for food-service automation. The creation of Redwood City, CA-based Chowbotics, Sally is a programmable robot that is about the size of dorm refrigerator. Using proprietary robotics technology, Sally can dispense and accurately measure 21 different healthy ingredients, including romaine, kale, seared chicken breast, Parmesan, California walnuts, cherry tomatoes and Kalamata olives. She mixes and dispenses the ingredients, while maintaining a precise temperature control. The foodie robot can craft 1,000 unique salads, all while the customer watches.

Sally is among a growing list of new consumer and business robots with specific functions. According to BI Intelligence, that segment of the robotics industry is surging. The multibillion-dollar global market for robotics, which has been dominated by industrial and logistics uses, is shifting toward new consumer and business applications, resulting in what may become a $1.5 billion market for consumer and business robots by 2019.

On the Job 24x7

Sally weighs in at 350 lbs. and has a list price of $30,000. Chowbotics also offers a lease option for $500 a month. That size and price point makes her appropriate for industrial kitchens and a variety of settings, including restaurants, airports, gyms, hospitals and other venues that are open 24/7 and have the need for fresh foods around the clock. Chowbotics intends to market Sally to hotels, so business guests who check in late can get fresh food even after the hotel restaurant is closed.

Chowbotics is making two versions of Sally, including one that can used by staff in a kitchen where servers could use Sally and then walk the salads out to customers. It also has an automat version with a menu touchscreen that allows customers to order and customize the salad of their choice, pay via Sally’s built-in credit card reader, and even watch her make the salad.

Precision Automation

The Chowbotics’ robot precisely measures each salad ingredient, ensuring that the customer order contains the exact number of calories listed on Sally’s digital menu. Chowbotics CEO and founder Deepak Sekar says that fast food restaurants with Sally serving up salads will attract more health-conscious patrons, as her recipes with their healthy ingredients contain far fewer calories than the typical 400 calorie options available at many quick-serve restaurants and salad bars. Businesses that use Sally can opt for Chowbotics-provided recipes or key their own recipes into the robot. Many of the recipes were created by Chowbotics executive chef Charlie Ayers, who was formerly Google’s original chef and a specialist in making healthy mass lunches in the 10 cafes on the Google campus.

Chowbotics IoT robot

Photo: Chowbotics

In addition to her measuring skills, Sally offers several other benefits to restaurants. “Sally is the next generation of salad restaurant,” Sekar told the San Francisco Chronicle. He notes that a robot can make salad faster than a human can, and it’s more hygienic to have a machine prepare a salad than to have multiple cooks mixing ingredients or (worse yet) a crowd touching all the ingredients in an open salad bar. The company also notes that for restaurant owners, Sally has advantages over human labor: she is dependable and predictably efficient, requires no health benefits and is always available around the clock, if needed.

Sally requires human hands to prep and load the ingredients that go into its canisters, which are then installed into the robot. She can make 40 salads before refilling. Sekar says that while chopping ingredients by machine “is too complicated right now,” automated chopping functionality is on deck in future versions of the robot.

Dressed Up and Ready to Go

Several pilot customers are using the Chowbotics robot. Sally is mixing up greens at the Campbell, CA-based Italian restaurant Mama Mia’s, and it is in the co-working space Galvanize in San Francisco. Sally also has a job at the corporate cafeteria at H-E-B Grocery Co. in Texas.

Watch Sally make a salad at http://sallythesaladrobot.com/. Learn more about Chowbotics robots for food service. 

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