In a scene that looks like it came from a science fiction movie, a pair of robot arms twist and turn overhead as they serve shoppers in Huawei’s new SOTA staffless Wuhan Optics Valley retail outlet. The shop boasts a seamless design, automating step-by-step from inventory supply and storage to display and sales. It sells the latest Huawei products: Mate30 5G and P30 series smartphones, Freebuds3 Wireless headsets, GT2 sports watches and more.
Customers can reserve online or shop onsite. After making a selection and paying by smartphone app, a large robotic arm whirs into action, deftly grasping and transporting the merchandise to an operation table, where the customer order is completed by a smaller robot cohort and delivered to the clearance window.
The store’s architectural theme is cylindrical, the customer interface wrapped in 360° bulletproof glass. The 234 stock storage units are divided into seven divisions, covering most types of Huawei products: mobile phones, tablets, wearables, audio, accessories, and smart home products (except ultra-large screen devices).
The two robot arms were provided by Wuhan-based startup Cobot. The company focuses on 3D vision, force control, intelligent detection, and flexible grabbing technologies for industrial robots. Its industrial robotics operating system “COBOTSYS” is augmented by ML models.
Cobot’s robot arms are widely used in warehouses, and the algorithms and system design for Huawei’s retail store is not that different — only the hardware has been altered. Cobot CEO Miao Li says that compared to grabbing objects in warehouses, food, and pharmacies, selling mobile phones is much simpler: “They are standard-size boxes, and the phone models in each box are fixed.”
Huawei’s new store is conceptually similar to NODE + Ministore, the world’s first robot supermarket, which was designed by Cobot and operating partner Node Plus.
Amazon launched its Amazon Go staffless store in Seattle in 2016, inspiring a global sprouting of such stores. In China an estimated 200 unmanned convenience stores had opened by the end of 2017. Some are special or small endeavours, such as when WeChat Pay teamed up with EasyGo, ELLE and other brands on a pop-up staffless store in Shanghai. Other ventures include ambitious (albeit unsuccessful) plans like JD.com’s to open 5,000 unmanned shops in the span of half a year.
While the Chinese market is no longer chasing the unmanned store hype, people’s retail experiences are generally becoming more automated. According to market forecasts by iReserach Consulting Group, the transaction scale of the unmanned retail market (including vending machines) is estimated to rise from 2017’s CN¥20 billion to some CN¥65 billion this year, a three-year compound growth rate of 50 percent.
Source: Synced China
Localization: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Sarazen
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