(Source – NVIDIA)

Robots to restock FamilyMart shelves in Japan

FamilyMart is a popular food chain in the Asia Pacific. With over 16,000 stores in Japan, ensuring the supply chain of products to these stores is essential in keeping customers happy.

While using manual labor for inventory management and stock keeping is primarily the way most businesses operate, technology today has enabled most of these processes to be automated.

Now, Tokyo-based startup Telexistence is planning to deploy NVIDIA AI-powered robots to restock shelves at hundreds of FamilyMart convenience stores in Japan in a move that is expected to save time for these stores by offloading repetitive tasks like refilling shelves of beverages to a robot.

The move is expected to allow retail staff to tackle more complex tasks like interacting with customers. Currently, Japan has over 56,000 convenience stores, the third most in terms of density in the world.

Robots have already been used for stocking in warehouses around the world. Logistics companies have also been relying on robots to ensure their products are well sorted and to avoid disruptions caused by staff shortages.

Telexistence’s robots run on the NVIDIA Jetson edge AI and robotics platform. The company is also developing AI-based systems for warehouse logistics with robots that sort and pick packages.

For Jin Tomioka, CEO of Telexistence, the company wants to deploy robots to industries that support humans’ everyday life.

“The first space we’re tackling this is through convenience stores — a huge network that supports daily life, especially in Japan, but is facing a labor shortage,” commented Tomioka.

The restocking robots, called TX SCARA, will be deployed to 300 FamilyMart stores in August 2022. The addition of autonomous machines to additional FamilyMart stores is also planned, with other major convenience store chains also expecting to use the robots in the coming years.

TX SCARA runs on a track and includes multiple cameras to scan each shelf, using AI to identify drinks that are running low and plan a path to restock them. The AI system can successfully restock beverages automatically more than 98% of the time.

In the rare cases that the robot misjudges the placement of the beverage or a drink topples over, there’s no need for the retail staff to drop their task to get the robot back up and running. Instead, Telexistence has remote operators on standby, who can quickly address the situation by taking manual control through a VR system that uses NVIDIA GPUs for video streaming.

Telexistence estimates that a busy convenience store needs to restock more than 1,000 beverages a day. TX SCARA’s cloud system maintains a database of product sales based on the name, date, time, and number of items stocked by the robots during operation. This allows the AI to prioritize which items to restock first based on past sales data.

Founded in 2017, Telexistence plans to use the robots for stocking in American convenience stores as well in the future, with a labor shortage in the retail industry continuing to be a major disruptor. In the US, more than half of consumers say they visit one of the country’s 150,000 convenience stores at least once a month.