Technology is used in almost every facet of our daily lives, largely because today’s society values convenience and speed. In the e-commerce sector, technology has made a huge impact. Around 67% of all warehouses plan to use mobile devices to manage their inventory, so it’s clear that both customers and companies have embraced everything technology can do. Other companies are accepting another kind of cutting-edge tech to help them keep track of their products and ensure customers have a positive experience, and it’s one that old sci-fi movies predicted. You guessed it: robots. Amazon has already become known for using these kinds of devices in their fulfillment centers, and now Gap Inc. will be following suit.
Kindred, a San Francisco-based robotics and artificial intelligence startup, will be responsible for bringing robots to the Gap. The startup was named one of MIT Technology Review’s Top 50 Smartest Companies of 2017 and has investors like Alphabet’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt to thank. Kindred has been testing its first production model robot, called Kindred Sort, as part of a trial program with the Gap. The technology pairs artificial intelligence and robot arms with remote human operators to help the robots learn without eliminating actual employees. Plus, it means that operations can be run from virtually anywhere in the world; for this program, six human operators in Toronto will have robot cohorts in a Tennessee fulfillment center.
Kindred’s chief product officer, George Babu, told Fortune that he knows many people are concerned that widespread use of robots might threaten human workers. But he pointed out that there’s currently a shortage of warehouse workers that leads to stunting of brand growth. And with the way Kindred’s technology works, the human component is a must.
Babu told MIT Technology Review, “Our whole premise is that we want to be in a physical body, interacting with the world to learn. We want to provide the intelligence from the cloud, and then provide human intelligence when needed remotely.”
According to Babu, the robots are now processing real orders and are helping their human partners separate products by type for delivery. Throughout the trial process, the A.I. algorithms will allow the robots to take on more complex tasks. Eventually, the robots will even learn what kind of touch and pressure they can use for a pair of jeans, as opposed to a scarf or pair of sunglasses. For now, the human operators will help the robots along.
Kindred is charging Gap a fee for the program equivalent to payment for the robots’ time. Babu was quick to point out, “We’re not selling the robots, and it’s not a monthly lease either. We’re trying to create the A.I., so we price the use of the A.I., and the hardware price is baked into that.”
But considering that the U.S. apparel market is expected to grow to $385 billion by 2025, it’s likely a win for both parties; Kindred gets the funding it needs to continue their research and development, while the Gap will get to provide better options, accuracy, and convenience for customers. And since these robots can scan barcodes and sort products anywhere from 250 to 400 times per hour, the technology is posed to make a big impact.