The first day of the Robotics and Automation Conference saw eight industry experts from across the robotics value chain deliver exclusive presentations that educated, informed and enlightened a packed-out theatre of industry professionals eager to learn how cutting-edge, real-world technology deployments can transform their own business operations.
A particular highlight was the session delivered by Grace Wilkinson, head of online last mile and customer service at Co-op, and Scarlett Rhodes, senior online manager, last mile and customer at Co-op, which focused on how the grocery retailer has been using autonomous robots for last-mile deliveries and e-commerce in towns and cities across the UK through its partnership with robotics company Starship Technologies.
Wilkinson kicked off the presentation to a packed conference theatre with an overview of Co-op’s last-mile strategy so far and addressed some of the challenges the company has faced through the pandemic. This included changing customer demands for last-mile deliveries throughout and the consequent recent e-commerce boom.
On the changing landscape Co-op has had to adapt to, Wilkinson said: “Different players like Uber Eats, Amazon and Deliveroo have been delivering faster and faster, meaning customers want groceries really fast.
“Some customers do a traditional shop worth more than £100, which is a planned purchase, whereas others want rapid delivery. Uber Eats baskets, for example, are often below £20. The big gap in the middle of these two is where Co-op wanted to play.
Attendees were lucky enough to see one of the Starship robots in action, with Co-op demonstrating some of its speaking features, as well as its movability
“However, when it comes to implementing robotics, choosing the right partner is really important. We have done lots of tests and learned from lots of different providers. It’s really important that partners are on the same journey and that it’s an open and honest relationship, you need to be willing to share and communicate throughout that journey – otherwise one will benefit and the other will not.”
Some key points of the presentation included Co-op’s strategy and how it differed depending on if services were being provided in villages, towns or cities. Tweaking plans to ensure customer needs are accurately accommodated was a key emphasis of the presentation, with Wilkinson saying this was essential to making cost-effective decisions, effectively using vehicles and eliminating dead mileage where possible.
Scarlett Rhodes took over for the second half of the session, and highlighted the ways in which properly addressing the last mile has become one of the most important answers to the how to cope with the e-commerce boom to date.
Discussing the role of autonomous technology in this, Rhodes emphasised that, though some of the technology is in its infancy, Co-op feels it can rely on autonomy to help move the business forward.
Attendees were lucky enough to see one of the Starship robots in action, with Co-op demonstrating some of its speaking features, as well as its movability.
Rhodes offered an overview of the development of Starship from a start-up to its current record-breaking success, and how its interactive robots have allowed the retailer to reach more customers in “new and innovative ways”. On this, she said: “Colleagues and customers really engage and are proud to have this service and raise awareness of it within the community.”
The talk ended with a busy Q&A session from the audience, which saw queries ranging from branding to hurdles within the community to anti-theft technology and vandalism.
Day 2 of the Robotics and Automation Conference kicks off tomorrow (29 March) at 10am with a presentation by Richard Waterstone, consultant at Sheffield Robotics, on preparing the workforce for 2030: skills and education for robotics and autonomous systems.
Other highlights to look forward to on Day 2 include sessions from John Wilson, technology and innovation director at GXO (AMRs – driving supply-chain productivity through flexible technology) and Gordon Baker, policy lead for robotics at the UK Department for Science, Innovation & Technology (Advancing airborne autonomy: commercial drones).Click here for the most up to date agenda.
Missed Day 1 of Robotics and Automation 2023? There’s still time to register for Day 2 (29 March)! Click here to register for your free visitor pass – which includes access to the co-located IntraLogisteX 2023 – and see the very best in robotics and automation solutions live at the NEC Birmingham!