Case studies

Applications of robotics in the consumer goods industry

Credit: Bert van Dijk/Getty images.

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Robomart – the world’s first store-hailing platform

Since 2018, leading consumer companies like PepsiCo, Co-op, and Unilever have begun investing in AI-powered automotive vehicles to reach on-the-go, digitally native consumers and improve their sustainability practices.

Autonomous vehicle delivery systems reduce the need for manpower in the delivery process and help to reduce a company’s carbon footprint.

These autonomous vehicles can also be an innovative, convenient way for consumers to do their shopping. Kar-go, an autonomous vehicle delivery service startup, estimates that using autonomous vehicle delivery systems can reduce costs of last-mile delivery services by 90% for companies who use them.

Robomart, a UAV delivery vendor, received a US patent for its one-click store-hailing technology and checkout-free solution in January 2022. The company then partnered with CPG giant Unilever in May 2022 to create a fleet of robotic ice cream vans, dubbed Robomarts, to deliver directly to consumers in the US. This fleet of Robomarts stocks sweet treats from the FMCG giant’s portfolio of ice cream brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, Good Humor, Magnum, and Talenti.

Consumers can hail these robot ice cream stores via a smartphone application which then arrives at their location in under ten minutes. When the autonomous vehicle arrives, consumers then swipe across the app to open the doors and pick out their ice cream of choice without the need to physically check out or use a credit card.

These mobile minimarts supported by robotics allow Unilever to tackle the challenge of offering frictionless, more convenient shopping for the consumer.

Elephant Robotics rolls out its bionic companion robot

Elephant Robotics, a consumer robotics start-up, has begun the mass production of a bionic Al robot pet to comfort individuals who are confined to their homes, dubbed MarsCat. According to Elephant Robotics themselves, MarsCat can become the future of companion robots with the rapid advancement of technology, declining costs of electrical components, and rising social anxiety.

MarsCat is a fully autonomous robot that is bionic and can independently perform activities including walking, running, sleeping, sitting, stretching, and biting nails. Using AI, the robot pet learns autonomously and forms its own personality based on the frequency of speaking, enthusiasm, frequency of movement, and tone of the sounds. It is controlled via a smartphone app, named MarsApp, to act on the commands it receives.

According to Elephant Robotics, MarsCat is the world’s first bionic pet cat created purely to be a companion to help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. While consumer robots continue to carry with them a hefty price tag, for both the consumer and the vendor, prices are decreasing.

Developments in smart technologies and declining manufacturing costs will open market opportunities for consumer goods companies moving forward. As consumer trust in robots increases, personal robots will become a more popular choice.

Treasury Wine Estates and the robotic vineyard

Within drinks production plants, automated systems are being used to move finished products from line to delivery with reduced need for manual labour and increased product format flexibility. Food and beverage companies also use robotics to improve quality control, increase efficiency and reduce waste.

Treasury Wine Estate (TWE) upgraded its wine production site in the Barossa region, South Australia, to the tune of a $115 million upgraded wine production site in South Australia, including the introduction of robotics.

The facility has been upgraded from three bottling lines to four with further upgrades set to increase production capacity by a third. The area for barrel storage has also been increased, while automated guided vehicles have been installed to move and monitor barrels.

The Australian wine producer also invested in autonomous crop spraying robots in 2021, These robots are a result of Treasury Wine Estate’s collaboration with robot vendor Yamaha (providing the physical machine) and AgriTech start-up Yield Technology (providing the software and AI platform).

The Tech vendors partnered in June 2021 in a bid to improve productivity in agriculture through digitalization and robotics. They combine robotics with IoT and AI technology to gather weather data and growth patterns from crops to make better decisions like, for example, when to irrigate, feed, and plant, as well as improve harvest prediction accuracy.

This data helps AGVs know when to autonomously spray crops, with technology that helps them map and learn the areas that need covering.

TWE hopes that using smart robotics will improve efficiency and reduce waste at the vineyard and when moving produce. It is also an example of how robotics combined with smart technologies can improve the manufacturing and distribution processes for food and beverage companies seeking to become more efficient.

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article. 

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.