While online grocery stores are expanding, supermarkets continue to provide customers with the sensory experience of choosing goods while walking between display shelves. Retail and logistics companies are committed towards a shopping experience more comfortable and exciting while, at the same time, using technology to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
REFILLS will improve logistics in a supermarket thanks to mobile robotic systems in close and smart collaboration with humans, addressing the main in-store logistics processes for retail shops: in particular, robots will allow a smarter shelf refilling. Effective product presorting and sequencing is achieved with robots, based on information about available items in the store. If the stocks are correctly monitored, pre‐sorting will allow sending only relevant products to the shelves for stacking. An organised just‐in-time “shelf filling” process reduces the incidences of refilling from the backroom. This process can be implemented either following a human–robot collaboration paradigm, including physical and cognitive help for the clerks, or with a fully autonomous robot, proposed for operation during closing time. Information on the articles is exploited to create powerful knowledge bases, used by the robots to identify shelves, recognize missing or misplaced articles, handle them and navigate the shop. Reasoning allows robots to cope with changing task requirements and contexts, and perception-guided reactive control makes them robust to execution errors and uncertainty. The level of dexterity, flexibility and safety (as well as cost) of traditional robots is not sufficient for the above described scenarios.
It is crucial for the impact and acceptance on the retail market to develop affordable robotic solutions that are smart, flexible and safe enough to work with existing shop fitting situations and requirements. A modular approach is adopted for the design of cost-efficient robotic units.
A final demonstration will take place at a real retail store. The REFILLS Consortium comprises participants along the whole value chain for developing and adapting new robot techniques and processes, and assuring a strong impact of the project outcomes.