A Canadian startup has begun piloting its “human-like intelligence robots ” that can complete retail worker tasks, recently testing it out at Canadian Tire-owned Mark’s..
This week, Sanctuary AI announced the successful deployment of its general-purpose robots at a Mark’s retail store.
According to the Vancouver startup, the week-long pilot at the Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC)-owned store saw the robot complete 110 retail-related tasks correctly, including picking and packing merchandise, cleaning, labelling, folding, and more.
Sanctuary noted that the tested tasks had previously only been performed in its labs, which it claims accurately mirrored the commercial setting.
“A human-like AI controlling Sanctuary AI’s general-purpose robots should be able to perform physical labour across virtually every industry.”
“Many organizations are facing labor challenges. Our population is aging, birth rates are declining, and workers have more choice for what they do and where they work than ever in history,” said Geordie Rose, co-founder and CEO of Sanctuary AI.
The commercial testing of the robot at Mark’s, which happened in January, is part of Sanctuary’s partnership with CTC. In this collaboration, Sanctuary worked on analyzing workflows within CTC’s organization, particularly on “what work people like and don’t like doing” in both its retail and distribution center environments.
Founded in 2018, Sanctuary aims to make work safer, more efficient, and sustainable through robots. According to the startup, the robots’ cognitive architecture are designed to mimic the different subsystems in a person’s brain. This approach defines the scope of the work to something that can be broken down into manageable pieces.
Sanctuary was created by Rose, who also co-founded quantum computing company D-Wave as well as robotics and AI company Kindred. Sanctuary’s founding team also includes several Kindred team members and its founders Suzanne Gildert, Olivia Norton, as well as Creative Destruction Lab’s Ajay Agrawal, who sits on Sanctuary’s board of directors.
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Though Sanctuary said this represents the first deployment of human-like intelligence in general-purpose robots at a commercial store, there have been other “human-like” robots deployed in retail environments before.
There are a slew of other companies working on humanoid bots with varying capabilities. One of the most recognizable is Boston Dynamics’ robots, which are being used for many groundwork use cases, like navigating rough terrain.
Another example is SoftBank Group’s holding company for its robotics business and its interactive and autonomous robot named ‘Pepper.’ In 2021, Pepper was deployed in a Polish shoe store to speak with customers. Unlike Sanctuary’s robot, which can do a wide range of physical tasks, Pepper’s abilities are limited to facial recognition and analyzing basic human emotions.
Similar to Sanctuary’s robot, United States’ Agility Robotics has machines that are currently capable of moving totes and packages. According to its website, Agility is developing additional capabilities for its robots, including the ability to unload trailers and last-mile delivery.
In terms of what’s next for Sanctuary, the Canadian startup said its general-purpose robots “should be able to perform physical labour across virtually every industry”.
Since its inception, Sanctuary has raised over $100 million in total funding to date, including a $30 million investment it received from the federal government last year to hire more people. The startup noted as part of this week’s announcement that it is “active in its next funding round.”
Featured image courtesy Sanctuary AI.