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Hip Berlin sneaker shop uses ABB robot to deliver customer’s shoe choice

An in-store industrial robot that collects your preferred shoe model for you to try on

At this year’s Berlin Fashion Week, Solebox, a sneaker shop, drew throngs of curious onlookers by deploying an ABB industrial robot to help sort and shelve its trendy shoes.

Here’s how it works: If a customer is interested in a particular model, he or she pushes a button on a control panel and the IRB 2600 – typically used for things like arc welding, material handling and machine tending – will grab the desired shoebox and bring it to a drawer with its pneumatic gripper.

The ABB robot, white with black lettering, deposits the box where the customer can reach it easily. If the shoe doesn’t fit, the robot will pick it up from the drawer and return it to its proper shelf.

The complete solution was planned and installed by system integrator KleRo, which on a more typical day would be designing robotic solutions for the automobile industry or for metal-milling applications inside a factory.

Just off Berlin’s famed shopping mile

According to KleRo manager Holger Klempnow, the biggest challenge in installing a robot at Solebox, located just off Berlin’s famous shopping mile called the Kurfurstendamm, was to develop a robot cell that can easily be handled by sales staff and customers. A robot cell, by the way, is the defined area on a factory floor (or shoe shop) where a robot performs a specific task.

The IRB 2600 industrial robot is ideal since it has a long reach, compact construction and flexible mounting that help make it the fastest, most-accurate and best protected robot of its kind.

The Mona Lisa?

Berlin shoppers were tickled by the use of the ABB robot in this unconventional environment. One even compared crowds ogling Solebox’s machine to those drawn by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

To be sure, robots aren’t uncommon in the shoe industry. They have long been used for tasks like applying adhesives. ABB robots are already working on production lines where they make specialty shoes including for cycling. Another German system integrator, Klöckner Desma, has helped deploy hundreds of ABB industrial robots over the years in the shoe industry.

This move by Berlin’s Solebox store – putting the ABB robot out in the open, for consumers to see and interact with – isn’t the first time somebody saw robots as an effective marketing tool.

But should you leave a tip?

A hotel in New York uses ABB’s robotics technology to help its guests with their luggage. The ABB articulated arm industrial robot – an IRB 6640 – is serving as an automated luggage storage and retrieval system in the lobby of a Yotel.

Housed behind a secure glass enclosure, that robot – endearingly called the “Yobot” – picks up and stores guests’ luggage in one of 117 lockers. When the guests are ready to leave, they present their bar-coded receipt to the robot, which promptly retrieves their bags with its three-meter reach and 60 kilogram payload.

One lingering question in robot etiquette: Do you have to leave a tip?

For my part, I’m looking forward to see the next “outside the box” application of what clearly is a multi-functional technology.

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