A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Pensa’s in-store drone acted as a powerful magnet that drew in thousands of visitors to our first-ever public demonstrations in Intel’s booth at NRF2019. Funny thing is, when the drone is in an actual retail environment, flitting around stores to capture real-time data on shelf conditions for analysis in Pensa’s backend intelligent cloud, hardly anyone notices it at all.
Why is that?
Safe and Inconspicuous
In our store pilots, we’ve conducted thousands of drone flights around real-world retail environments, and at the end of the day, people in the stores are pretty ho-hum. The drones barely garner a glance from most shoppers, most of the time.
Maybe that’s due in part to the fact that the Pensa drone doesn’t look like ‘a drone’ in the conventional sense most people expect. Several recent press articles described the Pensa drone as looking more like flying whiffle balls – a reference to the distinctive protective encasings around the drone’s four propellers.
And while “whiffle ball drones” wouldn’t be my preferred way to market the advantages of in-store drones for data collection, at the same time, whiffle balls don’t scare anyone! The design is a key part of why shoppers feel safe on those relatively rare occasions when they notice a drone hovering about.
What else? It’s surprisingly quiet – so much so that in a typical retail store environment, where there’s a good bit of ambient noise from carts and conversations and “cleanup-on-aisle-three” announcements, shoppers are more likely to see it before they hear it. And shoppers are busy, intent on checking things off their shopping lists or trying to figure out where to find the ketchup.
Unlike the expensive, sumo-wrestler sized robots some stores have deployed, Pensa’s drone fades into the backdrop. It’s nimble, but at the same time it doesn’t speed recklessly around the store. It’s a lot more look like a hovering saucer than the conjured-up image many people have of a menacing military drone.
Intriguing Rather Than Threatening
What we found in our trials is that nearly half of shoppers were completely oblivious to the drone. Those that did notice were overwhelmingly positive and curious. We observed that people who noticed the drone treated it much as they would treat a store worker or a new machine. Steering clear, but not by much…looking but not more than a glance.
This was born out in a trial we conducted with global beverage giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) in the heavily-trafficked store of retail partner IGA Extra Beck in Montreal, Canada. Over the course of a couple weeks, Pensa completed more than 200 flights (totaling more than two miles of total flight travel). Check out the video to hear IGA Extra Beck owner, Todd Beck, talk about how his initial concerns about potential intrusiveness were alleviated as he witnessed shoppers’ reactions.
While the reactions of shoppers in our trials indicate we could likely completely melt in alongside people, we will start with a different approach. Pensa’s first deployments will be largely after hours and only selectively during store hours. The Pensa drone operates around people by simply staying away from them. It is designed to mostly work where people aren’t, and to fade away to another aisle when people enter their work area. It’s a big advantage over heavy equipment and ground robots – i.e., the drone can quickly fade away. The agility and small size of Pensa’s drone also translates to potentially lower liability and injury concerns over large ground robots and their now infamous “run-ins” with shoppers.
Maybe people are so blasé about seeing drones taking inventory because it is win-win. Consumers don’t like stores to run out of their favorite yogurt. And store personnel would rather help customers than tediously stare at shelves.
In any case, if you see a drone in a store near you, no need to say “hello “or give it more than a passing glance.