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RFID Reading Robot Automates Decathlon Store's Inventory Management

The company's flagship sporting goods store, located in San Francisco, is leveraging Simbe Robotics' Tally robot to automate inventory counts, locate missing products and enable analytics about products of interest, while RFID readers at the door help to prevent loss.
By Claire Swedberg

That makes RFID a good technology choice to automatically detect a product's location, and to gather data for analytics, enabling the store to understand how and where products are being handled. The company first brought the Tally robot onsite and used its camera-based sensors to build a map of the one-story, 8,500-square-foot environment. That, Bogolea explains, can be accomplished within a matter of minutes.

Tally is a slim robot designed for use in a store front by shoppers and store personnel. It stands on a circular base that is approximately 62 inches in height and 18 inches in width. The company has built an Impinj reader into the Tally robot, as well as an array of antennas that can adjust orientation based on the direction of tag reads.

Decathlon's Tony Leon
The robot uses machine learning to optimize its traversal pattern. For instance, areas containing a high density of products and tags might require Tally to move more slowly, or to pass by twice. The robot also uses sensors to detect the presence of shoppers or store personnel, bypass the specific aisle in which they are congregating and then circle back to read the tags on that aisle once it is clear of people.

The robot can identify the location of each tag it reads within about 1 cubic meter. The collected data is then forwarded via a Wi-Fi transmission to a cloud-based server, where Simbe software interprets data and also provides an inventory audit and other reports pertaining to inventory location.

"A lot of what they've talked about is the value proposition to free up associates," Bogolea states. "Given it's a very dynamic environment, with products moving around stores, Tally has been a really helpful tool to free staff up to focus on more essential tasks, like hands-on customer service." The other benefit, he adds, is knowing where goods are located, so that they can be returned to the proper display area for easy customer access.

Analytics could provide another benefit for the retailer. Data concerning the movements of products helps management to understand what is being handled and purchased, and to compare that information against each item's location. "We're able to see which products need frequent replacement and which products do not sell as quickly," Leon says. "This type of data allows us to make smarter decisions when we think about how and when to stock our shelves."

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