Applications of robotics in the retail and apparel industry
Credit: Bert van Dijk/Getty images.
JD.com launched robotic shops in the Netherlands
In January 2022, JD.com launched two robotic shops, branded Ochama, in Leiden and Rotterdam. Since then, it has opened two more in Amsterdam and Utrecht. These are JD.com’s first physical stores in Europe. JD.com’s entry into Europe demonstrated its ambition to expand beyond China and challenge Amazon, which has its own checkout-free grocery stores, Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh.
JD.com intends to merge online ordering and pick-up shops where robots are used to prepare the parcels. Customers can order products online through Ochama’s app and scan the QR code on the app at the checkout. Robots, including automated ground vehicles and robotic arms, are then used to sort and transfer orders to the shoppers. The model is designed to make the shopping experience more convenient for customers.
However, in October 2022, chief operating officer, Mark den Butter and chief marketing officer Kayee Tjahjadi-Lam left Ochama, in a setback for JD.com’s European expansion. Due to low demand, JD.com has found it difficult to penetrate the European market with its robotic shops, despite its technological advantages. Ochama caters mostly for Chinese shoppers in Europe and has experienced a surplus in its warehouse capacity.
This demonstrates that while the use of robotics is important in retail, especially on the supply side of the business, instore robotics has its limitations when it comes to generating customer demand.
Auroboros taps biomimicry to unveil digital ready-to-wear collection
UK’s digital fashion house Auroboros has launched its ‘Biomimicry digital ready-to-wear (RTW)’ collection at London fashion week in partnership with the Institute of Digital Fashion in London. The collection’s Biomimicry gown can autonomously transform in shape and colour and is fashioned from recycled plastic and salt crystals.
Biomimicry, also known as biomimetics, is a branch of research in which scientists study nature and borrow design features to develop new technologies or products and promote sustainability. Biomimicry clothing aims to apply biological processes and organisms to materials that connect our bodies to nature.
Auroboros uses digital programming to create the sleeveless dress, thus enabling them to cut the pattern, decide on the size and ensure the correct fit. It uses recycled Perspex, a solid transparent plastic, to sculpture the gown's under structure. The startup uses salt crystals that are incubated and heated over weeks and pair the dress with recycled glass beads by Swarovski.
These salt crystals can be added to the mixed media on the gown's surface which gets oxidised over time. Auroboros claims that the reactive solution responds to the changing environment, resulting in a different outcome of the crystallisation process each time. At the end of the lifespan, the crystals would fall off the dress like the leaves falling from a tree, mimicking nature's life cycle. With the Biomimicry collection, the designers aim to promote sustainability, innovation, and inclusivity commitments of the brand by repurposing material waste.
Auroboros’ Biomimicry digital RTW collection focuses to address the fashion industry’s waste generation problem by allowing designers to create garments without any physical constraints while achieving sustainability goals. It claims to generate 97% less waste than traditional garment production.
Auroboros' digital collection is also ‘made-to-measure,' as each piece is applied to the wearer individually, making it body and gender-inclusive. Biomimicry dress was currently worn by the AI-based robot artist Ai-Da at the London Design Festival and an exhibition inside the Victoria and Albert Museum. While the physical dress worn by Ai-Da self-destructs, the digital reproductions of the same design can be viewed virtually through AR both online and at the museum.
Additionally, sustainable fashion enthusiast customers can try on the ‘VenusTrap’ dress, taken from the Biomimicry Collection, via Snapchat by scanning QR codes on Auroboros billboards and posters throughout London.
Amazon deploys fully autonomous warehouse robots
Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva Systems in 2012 was the start of its robotics journey. It has since deployed more than 520,000 robotic drive units. In June 2022, Amazon unveiled its first fully autonomous mobile robot, Proteus.
Incorporating robotics in the same physical space as human workers in a safe manner was previously a difficult task. As the ecommerce sector expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon saw unprecedented demand, facilitating the need to increase the size of its operations. Amazon turned to technology to reduce warehouse inefficiencies and create a safer working space.
Proteus was designed to move autonomously through Amazon facilities and around employees using advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology, so it is not confined to restricted areas of the warehouse. By using Proteus, Amazon intends to reduce the need for workers to manually move heavy items in warehouses, allowing them to focus on more rewarding work.
Under pressure to reduce logistics costs, Amazon introduced warehouse robot Sparrow in November 2022. The robotic arm uses computer vision to identify and pick up items varying in size from shelves and bins. It is able to detect, select, and handle individual products in the Amazon inventory, tasks that human workers previously handled. By taking on repetitive tasks, Sparrow will allow workers to focus on other warehouse tasks and create a safer working space.
Amazon also launched Cardinal in 2022, an AI-based robotic work cell that selects one package from a heap of packages, lifts it, reads the label, and places it in a cart. It can move packages weighing up to 50 pounds and lower the risk of employee injuries resulting from lifting and carrying heavy packages. Cardinal accelerates the process of package sorting in an Amazon facility.
GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.
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