TORY inventory robot rolls out to European retail stores

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After a three-year pilot, German clothing retailer ADLER Modemärkte AG this week said it is rolling out the TORY inventory robot to 40 of its stores. Ilmenau, Germany-based MetraLabs GmbH provides design services and makes the autonomous service robots.

TORY checks inventory 10 times faster than humans, and a unit can run for up to 18 hours before needing a recharge, said Christian Reuther, senior software architect at MetraLabs. It scans RFID tags and has a 99% capture rate, he said.

“We developed optimized antennas and driving behaviors to ensure this high read rate while also in challenging tag locations,” said Andreas Bley, managing director at MetraLabs. “We needed to deal with typical obstacles in fashion stores and less space to operate,”

“TORY just orientates itself on natural landmarks, like walls or shelves,” Bley told The Robot Report. “We have installations in which robots operate in more that 20,000 square meters [65,600 sq. ft.]. The bigger the store, the higher the savings from an economic point of view. Some restrictions come from the type of floor — steps within one level, high edges, high carpets.”

Since retail stores frequently change their configuration, the robot is equipped to deal with this.

“We have put much effort to enable TORY to deal with these challenges and automatically remap the area while doing the normal stock-taking night run,” said Bley. “The duration of a complete run in a store depends on the store size, but it usually takes about four hours.”

TORY collects amount and position data and uploads it to inventory management systems. “Based on the RFID stock-taking, automatic reordering or alerts can be generated to mobile devices of the store personnel,” Bley said.

At the same time, this enables human staffers to spend more time attending to customers.

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ADLER expands TORY use

ADLER plans to deploy MetraLabs’ robots between April and August, and it expects a return on investment in 1.5 years. As of December 2018, ADLER had 3,786 employees, 178 stores, and €507.1 million ($572.49 million U.S.) in revenue. It has bought the robots, which it expects to have an average lifespan of five to seven years and to eliminate the need to bring in third-party inventory takers.

MetraLabs' TORY inventory robot

TORY takes inventory in an ADLER store. Source: MetraLabs

Although the robots can operate when customers are present, ADLER has decided for now to operate them when stores are closed, said Bley.

“Each store will use one robot,” he explained. “If a store has multiple levels, TORY will be exchanged between several levels, and each level has a separate docking station.”

Phase 2 testing for TORY

MetraLabs plans to test additional capabilities for its robots. The company has projects in Europe and the U.S.

“The [optical] shelf-gap recognition and planogram-checking functions of TORY are especially developed for retailers that do not use RFID, such as grocers or electronic stores,” said Bley. “For example, last year, we have shown how TORY maps a store and shows the location of products.”

The global market for inventory robots will experience a compound annual growth rate of 13% from 2019 to 2023, predicts Technavio. So how does MetraLabs distinguish itself from competitors?

“We have a strong background in autonomous navigation with more than 80,000 autonomously driven kilometers [49,700 mi.] in commercial applications, especially in public environments,” Bley said. “Customers says that TORY provides ultrafast mapping. For example, a map of a store with a size of 4,000 square meters [13,123 sq. ft.] can be done in less than an hour. And due to our modular approach, you can customize TORY according to your needs.”

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