Robotics Enabling Fully‐Integrated Logistics Lines for Supermarkets — REFILLS (Project ID: 731590)

Summary

REFILLS proposes to develop solutions allowing robots to improve logistics processes in a supermarket, revolutionising their current structure. Although the market for on-line ordering is growing, experts agree that there will always be demand for physical supermarkets as they combine the relaxing sensory experience of shopping with the extra service of human advice.

Even while automation is improving the experience of customers at retail shops both in terms of ordering and customer comfort, there is still a lack of automation in the logistics management of the retail store. Most of the logistics costs arise from items handling, items transportation, shelves replenishment and backroom management. Supermarket clerks perform these time-consuming, repetitive, inefficient, monotonous and wearing tasks. A mobile robotic system in close and smart collaboration with humans can ideally perform the tasks described above provided some challenges are solved. The tasks carried out by a supermarket clerk are rather complex to automate. Therefore, robotic solutions should cover a number of intermediate steps ―with the potential for early exploitation and store and customer benefits― up to the desired level of automation to fulfill the logistics needs of the retail market domain. Within this context, REFILLS proposes the development of robotic systems addressing four main in-store logistics processes:

  1. “Shelf monitoring” necessary to keep supermarket shelves stocked and minimize empty or disarranged shelves, which means missed sales
  2. “Store delivery and pre-sorting” of goods
  3. Shelf filling activities of pre-sorted new deliveries, known as “initial shelf filling”
  4. “Refilling from the backroom” of products for which shelf space, at the time of initial shelf filling, was not sufficient.

Within REFILLS, it is expected that effective product pre-sorting 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.

This novel “smart shelf refilling” concept with robotic pre-sorting in the backroom, robotic support in the shop, and robotic continuous updates stock inventory is expected to impact in-store logistics.