Israel’s largest supermarket chain weighing using robots to track inventory

Shufersal deploys droid from startup Trax in pilot program, aims to expand devices to stores nationwide to streamline shelf-stocking

Illustrative: Israelis shop at a supermarket in Jerusalem, November 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis shop at a supermarket in Jerusalem, November 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s largest supermarket chain, Shufersal, is looking into the possibility of putting robots into its stores nationwide, according to a Sunday report.

The robots would be supplied by the startup Trax, which develops computer vision technology for retailers, the Globes business daily reported.

The devices would be placed in stores in the coming year, with one robot already having been deployed for about six months as a pilot in the chain’s Azrieli Mall location in Tel Aviv. The droids would keep track of inventory on the stores’ shelves and streamline their restocking with the help of smart cameras and real time analytics on store supplies.

Following the apparent success of the pilot program, Shufersal aims to expand the use of the devices. Trax reportedly expects the robots to be deployed at the chain’s largest stores in the coming year. Shufersal declined to comment. Trax’s headquarters are in Singapore but most of its research and development takes place in Israel. It counts global brands such as Heineken and Nestle as clients.

Until now, the Shufersal pilot robot has only been active while the store was closed to customers, or was watched by an operator, but the company is looking into using a more sophisticated device, and aims to make the bots more independent.

The robots navigate the stores’ aisles, monitoring products and producing images of different product categories several times per day. The data they collect is uploaded to a cloud and the images are analyzed. The store receives real-time information about consumer purchases in the store and storerooms are alerted about missing products.

Because of privacy concerns and regulations in Europe, the robots do not photograph people.

The droid is reportedly able to detect what products are on a shelf, even if they are obstructed by other products, or lighting is poor. They will be able to monitor inventory on the shelves, pricing labels, and sales promotions, the Globes report said.

Shufersal operates about 365 stores.

Israel pharmacy chain Superpharm is also running a robot pilot program in some of its stores, the report said.

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