BENGALURU: At an office in HSR Layout, a boxshaped robot, mounted with a tablet, moves along the office floor while avoiding objects. As it detects a human face, it stops to greet and introduce itself: “Greetings, I’m Spod. I’m here to help you shop.”
Spod is an artificial intelligence-enabled robotic shopping assistant that visitors to supermarkets may well see in near future. At its maker’s office, Spod, still under development, manages to detect faces, greet people, introduce itself, take inputs and navigate itself. This comes close on the heels of a humanoid being deployed as a waiter at a restaurant in Shivamogga, Karnataka.
According to its makers, Spod can typically be deployed at either inventories of large e-commerce firms or at supermarkets. When customers walk into a grocery store, the robot will scan their face via a tablet mounted on it and detect if they have visited earlier. It will detect the gender and rough age of the customer, and based on these inputs, suggest products.
Customers can speak to the robot and ask for a particular product. The robot will then navigate to the right shelf. Spod comes fitted with a basket that will remove the need for customers to carry a shopping basket around. Customers will be able to get details of a products, including discounts and offers, from Spod’s tablet. Spod can also provide remote assistance. If a customer requires expert advice, the robot can connect them to a field expert via video call.
The robot’s development began in response to retail markets need for a device that could improve the shopping experience of customers, said Balaji Vishwanathan, co-founder of Invento, the firm that developed Spod. “For retailers, it’s about driving sales. For brands, it’s about giving out more information about the product. E-commerce players want this to be used at the back-end at their inventories, while large malls want it at the front-end, guiding customers in stores,” he said.
Vishwanathan said neither customers nor retailers will be charged for the robot, and the monetisation would be from brands that will want to put out details of their products through the robot. Some experiences, like the remote assistance feature, will be enabled only for loyal customers.
Spod is operated by rechargeable batteries and the final version will be programmed to dock itself to the charging point when the battery is low, said Kaundinya Panyam, vice-president – Sales for Invento. Its navigation is based on the simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) principle, equivalent to a person in a new city getting familiarised by making note of landmarks, he said. Spod is expected to be launched by the end of June.