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Retail Tech: CES Kicks Off as Vuzix Debuts Smart Glasses, Aptos Acquires LS Retail

The weekly Retail Tech Roundup compiles technology news across the supply chain, manufacturing, retail, e-commerce, logistics and fulfillment sectors.

This week, select solutions introduced at the all-digital CES 2021 are highlighted, alongside retail technology announcements from around the industry.

CES 2021

Augmented reality

Vuzix/Jade Bird Display

Vuzix Corporation, a supplier of smart glasses and augmented reality (AR) technology and products, confirmed at the Consumer Electronics Show that it has entered into a multi-year agreement with Jade Bird Display, a Shanghai-based provider of MicroLED displays, to collaborate on the co-development and cross-supply of solutions incorporating superbright MicroLED display engines and Vuzix waveguides.

Under the agreement, Jade Bird Display will provide MicroLED displays and Vuzix will provide newly developed proprietary waveguides and display engine optics to work with these displays. As augmented reality platforms are used more on a mobile phone to contextualize in-store experiences, retailers could possibly leverage the technology for store associates and consumers alike as they seek more contextual background on products or look to identify where a specific product is located.

The Vuzix Next Generation Smart Glasses (NGSG) have received CES 2021 awards in three categories: Computer Peripherals & Accessories, Portable Media Players & Accessories, and Wearable Technologies.

The Smart Glasses, coming later in 2021, are built to combine most smartphone and smartwatch capabilities all in a pair of stylish and comfortable glasses that enable hands-free connectivity while engaged in the real world.

Billed by Vuzix as “the ultimate smart phone accessory,” NGSG is designed to enable consumers to keep their phone in their pocket while using it with hands-free voice commands or simple gesture controls.

The smart glasses also include typical wireless communication standards, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The higher-end models will offer LTE integration, which would allow users to use them for cellular communication. The headset includes a noise-cancelling microphone and immersive stereo acoustic speakers to facilitate voice communication.

3D foot scanning

Aetrex

Aetrex is showcasing the Albert 2 foot scanning technology at CES. The company says the technology is powered by features developed by Intel RealSense and Harman, a Samsung Company, in an all-in-one, compact, omnichannel device.

Albert 2 features four Intel RealSense depth cameras amid 5,184 gold plated sensors. The cameras are developed to provide highly accurate 3D scanning capabilities and unparalleled depth quality per degree with a rolling shutter on the depth sensor. The D415 has a tightly focused field of view, enabling Albert 2 to create a 3D rendering of the foot and provide key measurements such as length, width and girth.

The technology integrates Harman Enova’s AI-powered voice assistant platform to create the Albert 2 Voice Assistant. With a wake word of “Hey Albert,” customers and retailers can ask Albert any question about their arch type, possible foot condition, orthotic recommendations, and more.

Using the Aetrex Cloud platform and an AI model specifically trained on foot science vocabulary, the speech recognition platform instantly provides a response in the form of a video, audio or text with conversational-style replies.

Harman Enova’s voice assistant platform helps make the Albert 2 user experience more connected, convenient, touchless, contextual and personalized. Powered with natural language understanding (NLU) and high-quality speech synthesis, Harman Enova features advanced automatic speech recognition (ASR) capabilities with high precision.

Blockchain

Circularise

At CES, Circularise, a blockchain supply chain transparency provider based in the Netherlands, is showcasing the latest version of its solution to verify responsible sourcing and reinforce sustainable manufacturing and effective recycling practices while retaining full privacy protection of sensitive information.

By digitizing materials on blockchain, Circularise looks to create a digital thread through the whole supply chain, tracing materials, ensuring compliance, mitigating risks across the supply chain and enabling organizations to create new revenue streams, avoid greenwashing, make validated claims about their materials and products, and track the CO2 footprints and other sustainability metrics.

Through its work, Circularise supports manufacturers and brands to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Circularise developed a patent-pending technology called “Smart Questioning” that allows stakeholders to ask critical questions such as “Does this plastic part contain hazardous materials?” to a guarded dataset (e.g. the bill of materials) and receive trusted answers.

While other solutions may make information public by default or rely on consortium-based blockchain platforms where data is centralized and exchanged within a silo, compromising on transparency for the sake of privacy, Circularise is designed to create verified statements on public blockchains without revealing any underlying sensitive data.

Self-checkout

LiveArea

LiveArea, a global customer experience and commerce agency, is debuting LiveArea Scan & Go at CES. The proprietary retail technology from LiveArea allows in-store shoppers to avoid checkout lines without having to download any retail mobile app.

LiveArea Scan & Go is designed to help shoppers scan the barcodes on products they want, use mobile payments on their own devices, avoid checkout lines and leave after a store associate scans a digital receipt.

In deploying the self-service technology, retailers have a few potential benefits, such as selling more products with fewer associates, eliminating checkout lines, attracting new customers concerned with social distancing, rapidly deploying contactless payment options within weeks and avoiding costly hardware installations and maintenance.

Retailers can integrate LiveArea into existing commerce solutions, customer profiles and loyalty programs. The tech was created in LiveArea’s Product Innovation practice, and is compatible with major e-commerce platforms, including Salesforce Commerce Cloud, SAP Commerce Cloud, Magento, and BigCommerce. The offering builds on LiveArea’s expertise on these platforms and the company’s partnerships with major platform providers.

Robotics

LG

LGUVCRobot01

LG UVC Robot

At CES, LG Electronics unveiled an autonomous robot that will use ultraviolet (UV-C) light to disinfect high-touch, high-traffic areas. LG Business Solutions USA plans to offer the UV robot to U.S. retail, hospitality, education, corporate, restaurant and transportation customers early this year.

LG introduced the CLOi UV-C line of robots via a virtual influencer, “Reah Keem,” who appeared during the live-streamed CES keynote. Leading up to the event, LG promoted Keem through an Instagram account that now has more than 6,000 followers.

The CLOi robot line helps to disinfect high-touch, high-traffic areas. Because of its autonomous design, the robot will be able to move around tables, chairs and other furniture, generally irradiating a room’s touchable surfaces in 15 to 30 minutes, disinfecting multiple areas on a single battery charge.

Engineered to be easy to operate, the robot can be integrated into established cleaning routines without requiring extensive staff training or specialists to operate it. Staff will be able to monitor progress via remote updates to smartphones or tablets. Employee exposure to UV rays will be minimized through a built-in safety lock activated by human motion detection sensors, pressing an emergency stop button or via the mobile application.

Quicktron

Quicktron Intelligent Technology Co., a China-based autonomous mobile robot (AMR) manufacturer and AI research hub, recently completed a new financing round. The C+ round funding was led by Kion Group, a provider of industrial trucks and supply chain solutions, and Prosperity7 Ventures, the diversified growth fund of Aramco Ventures, as well as multiple investment institutions in China.

All proceeds from the funding will go toward global market expansion and further technical development, furthering the company’s mission to “free human beings from manual handling.”

The financing comes amid impressive growth numbers from Quicktron in recent years, with the company’s operating income from 2017 to 2019 increasing nearly tenfold and the total volume of orders in 2020 expecting to be more than 300 percent over 2019’s levels.

Wei Yang, founder and CEO of Quicktron, believes there is still an untapped industry worth 500 billion yuan (approximately $77 billion), particularly as the Covid-19 pandemic has fueled the need to reduce reliance on manual labor in logistics.

In 2020, Quicktron launched its product-level intelligent robotic solution, Quick Pick, which is currently being used in e-commerce, retail, footwear, manufacturing and other industries. The solution is equipped with efficient and stable robots that bear a high storage capacity. It also features small, lightweight, efficient, flexible and cost-effective intelligent mobile handling robots that work in intensive storage environments where it can carry and transfer items for on-site operators.

This combination is designed to effectively reduce the need for manual operation to achieve high efficiency and versatility, easing the labor intensity and boosting overall efficiency during the traffic surge in storage handling, order picking and item return requests.

Livestreaming

Paronym

Paronym Inc., a Tokyo-based startup, is debuting a new augmented reality (AR) video streaming service at CES, allowing retailers to offer in-store like shopping experiences with consumers livestreaming sale events.

The streaming video service, called Tig Live, was launched in response to social distancing mandates and lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Shoppers can touch or tap products in a video to access more information about items and ask store clerks questions, while retailers can create tags and embed them in the video by scanning physical tags on products.

In TigLive, shoppers can touch or tap products in a video to access more information about items and ask store clerks questions, while retailers can create tags and embed them in the video by scanning physical tags on products.

The service is made possible by Paronym’s video-tagging technology called Tig that has already helped to launch a sport apparel and retail business in Japan, according to Paronym.

The management system built into the service lets retailers connect with a store inventory and pull out items that a viewer wants to display during the live show. A salesperson then just needs a smartphone and a barcode reader to introduce every item while walking about the store and communicate with those tuning into the live broadcast.

Autonomous delivery

Morai

Morai, a South Korean startup that develops simulators for autonomous vehicles, is showcasing new features and innovations for its products at CES.

By recreating roads, sensors, and even vehicles within a virtual 3D simulation environment, Morai’s autonomous vehicle (AV) simulation solution enables users to freely test how their algorithms and software will react to difficult or dangerous scenarios without risk to drivers or other vehicles. Simulation also grants full control of the scene to the test operator, enabling tests for drastic, diverse weather conditions and edge cases not commonly seen while driving.

Providing engineers with detailed photorealistic scenes such as complex city intersections and test racetracks, Morai’s simulation environments can help customers perform verification and validation for their autonomous vehicles.

One of the features to be highlighted at the event is data-based scenario creation, where pre-recorded traffic data for a specific region can be used to recreate a test scenario identical to the recorded data. Instead of relying on the user to create test cases manually, real-world data can be used directly to enhance scenario realism and accuracy.

Real-world data is also key to building Morai’s simulation environments, which are digital twins of specific regions of interest, based on a combination of detailed geospatial map data and satellite imagery. Simulation environments can range from single city blocks or small highway segments to entire city districts.

Morai’s continued development of its core technologies and AV simulator helped the company raise around $2 million in Series A funding in November. Now, Morai plans to grow its network of over 50 different partners and clients internationally.

Omnichannel retail

Aptos/LS Retail

Retail technology solutions provider Aptos has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire LS Retail, a developer and provider of software solutions for retail, hospitality, food service, pharmacy and forecourt businesses. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The combination of Aptos and LS Retail is equipped to support retailers across all tiers, verticals and geographies with unified commerce solutions.

Pending the deal’s culmination, which is expected in February, LS Retail will operate as a standalone business unit within Aptos.

LS Retail’s solutions are sold, implemented and supported through a strategic global network of channel partners servicing more than 80,000 customer sites in over 140 countries. Its customer base spans fashion boutiques, electronics stores, furniture giants, duty-free chains, restaurants, hotels, pharmacies, coffee shops, gas stations, convenience stores and more.

The union of the two companies also creates a customer community whose collective breadth and depth of retail experience will be leveraged to share best practices for addressing retail transformation challenges and industry complexities.

LS Retail’s software solutions, including POS, ERP and inventory planning software, are developed specifically for retail, hospitality and food service businesses, and are designed to empower these companies with intelligence, actionable insights and specialized functionality to meet the needs of their industry. Built on Microsoft technology, LS Retail solutions are available as SaaS in the public Microsoft cloud.

LS Retail’s management team is led by Magnus Norddahl, who serves as the company’s CEO and has over 30 years of management experience in the software, IT, pharmaceutical and banking industries.

Based in Iceland, LS Retail has offices in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America and approximately 250 colleagues.

Merchandising/product development

Surefront

At NRF 2021, Surefront is launching its retail collaboration software to the public after piloting with dozens of retailers and suppliers. The unified collaboration technology is designed to streamline merchandising and product development.

With retail-specific tools (like product lifecycle management (PLM), product information management (PIM) and merchandising software, Surefront is designed to provide tools for suppliers and retailers to create new products and complete their wholesale orders. As a result, Surefront can connect siloed data, shorten supply chains, accelerate speed to market, and unite retailers and suppliers.

This patented technology is the brainchild of Dr. Luke Wang, who holds a Ph.D from the California Institute of Technology and founded several companies including Jia Home, a leading supplier to major retailers such as Walmart and Dollar General. Powered by Surefront’s technology, Jia Home was able to drive significant growth, despite the pandemic. Alex Ernenputsch, Jia Home’s vice president of sales, said sales doubled throughout the pandemic.

E-commerce site search

New Balance/Bridgeline Digital

New Balance is teaming with Bridgeline Digital, a provider of cloud-based AI search solutions, to launch Celebros Search to power the online search and product recommendations functions on its Indonesian website.

The New Balance online store in Indonesia, and its parent company Mitra Adiperkasa (MAP), have a longstanding relationship with Bridgeline. MAP is a lifestyle retailer in Indonesia with more than 2,600 retail stores and a diversified portfolio that includes Skechers, Zara, Lacoste and many others.

The Celebros Search solution was selected because of its AI-driven intelligent search capabilities and its integration with Magento, the e-commerce platform that powers many of MAP’s online stores. Celebros uses machine learning to understand user behavior and trends to provide customers with accurate and relevant results and recommendations.

Fraud protection

Appriss Retail/DiSa Digital Safety

Appriss Retail, a provider of artificial intelligence-based solutions designed to help retailers protect margin, unlock sales and cut shrink, has partnered with DiSa Digital Safety, a digital security and authentication solutions provider, in an effort to help retailers combat fraud and abuse in high-value merchandise.

Through this partnership, the DiSa Single Scan Serialization (3S) Smart Barcode identifies each item that will be incorporated into Verify, Appriss Retail’s analytics engine for return authorization.

Verify from Appriss Retail is designed to analyze a retailer’s data and enable a great shopping experience, while simultaneously helping to distinguish and deter the small percentage of consumers whose returns are potentially fraudulent or abusive.

DiSa’s 3S Smart Barcode enables the retailer’s point-of-sale to examine each individual item’s purchase and return history with one single scan, helping to remove disruption and confusion for the consumer and associate.

Incorporating fraud mitigation analytics from Verify with DiSa’s knowledge of that unique item is aimed at providing a level of return detail previously unattainable and allowing retailers and brands to materially reduce return fraud or abuse.

PLM

T2T Solutions/Centric Software

Sustainable fashion provider T2T Solutions has selected Centric Software’s Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution for emerging enterprises, Centric SMB. Centric Software serves fashion, retail, footwear, outdoor, luxury, home décor and consumer goods companies.

Centric SMB is a cloud-based, SaaS PLM solution tailored for the needs of SMBs to streamline product-related processes that grow more complex as companies scale and expand.

Established in 2001 and based in Barcelona, T2T Solutions works with major fashion retailers across Europe, with a roster of clients including Zara, Mango, Desigual, Massimo Dutti, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Pictures. The company was founded to enable the buying departments of large retailers to rapidly develop collections and respond to an ever, and quickly, changing market. The company, which is a specialized sustainable fashion supplier, oversees the entire fashion value chain and adapts to the specific needs of each brand.

Jordi Blasco, CEO of T2T Solutions, says the company needed better control and visibility to achieve a quick response and to transition to being more proactive in anticipating unforeseen problems and new trends.

“The SMB solution will enable us to gain greater traceability for sustainable product development, which is a key objective for the business,” Blasco said. “We realize that digitization is necessary now, not the future, and with Centric Software we visualize the creation of viable capsule collections in record time, with the support of suppliers and approval of customers, in just one click. Thanks to the increased control we will have across the board, we expect a real and reliable level of traceability for our customers.”

Drop shipping

Topdser

Topdser, a drop ship solution that connects product suppliers with online retailers, has released Topdser Private Storage, a feature designed to enable drop shippers to take advantage of bulk pricing, with Topdser managing the storage of surplus products until they are sold.

Using Topdser Private Storage offers drop shippers the chance to pre-purchase supplies and store them at Topdser’s warehouse, which can enables them to lock in lower wholesale pricing, while keeping extra stock on hand to manage through busier shopping periods. Additionally, the company says that storing surplus inventory with Topdser Private Storage significantly speeds the average fulfillment timeline, with orders arriving three to four days faster than before.

Topdser is currently offering 100 days of free Private Storage for all users.

The company used to exclusive work with Shopify-based retailers, but expanded its integration capabilities to include sellers on e-commerce platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Walmart, Woocommerce, Wish and Rakuten starting in November.

Drop shipping merchants can sync orders from these various platforms and purchase from the top vendors sourced by Topdser Sourcing, while letting Topdser handle the purchasing, consolidation and fulfillment of these orders. Tracking information is synced directly to those platforms, with tracking information provided directly to their customers.

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