By Silke Bruns | Freelance editor – »Making Innovative Leaps in Tandem« is the idea behind the transfer projects at
the Innovation Laboratory in which science and business lay the foundations for the implementation of new technologies together – here are two examples.

When the glove talks to the glasses

When the inventory management system at a supermarket reports negative stocks, an employee must immediately recount the goods on the shelf: daily stock control in food retailing is almost an obligatory exercise. This is normally carried out by an MDR device with the corresponding software. These mobile data recording devices are small all-rounders, they can easily be connected to the respective inventory management system and are therefore popular in retail. The main disadvantage is their lack of user-friendliness. The small display makes reading them quite difficult and the many tiny keys, also arranged in a very small space, lead to input errors. In addition, the devices can only be operated with both hands. As part of one of the Innovation Laboratory’s transfer projects, project manager Patrik Elfert and his team developed a new smart system for inventory control for the Hamburg-based company Lunar, the IT service provider for the EDEKA Group, using a combination of data goggles and scanner glove. »Our solution has the potential to replace such MDR devices in retail one day – as it means employees will be able to do their work faster and more ergonomically«, says Patrik Elfert, pleased with the successful »proof of concept«.

Are you still talking or are you touching already?

To implement their vision of smart inventory control in retail outlets, the researchers worked with the company to select the most suitable hardware available on the market. These turned out to be Google Glasses, which have recently celebrated a big comeback, and a high-tech glove with a removable scanner.

The data goggles guide the employee through the inspection process by displaying the information they need. As a result, even an unskilled employee can take care of stock control without needing any special instruction. The glove allows the employee to activate the scanner with a fingertip. During the process, the employee always has at least one hand free to continue sorting the goods on the shelf. Basically, people can decide whether they prefer to work with voice commands (e.g. »start scan process!«) or with a touchpad on the glasses. An interface program developed by the research team enables the glasses and the glove to communicate with each other and – more importantly – with the retailer‘s inventory management system. In addition to shortfall checks, the solution is of course also suitable for individual or random checks. Both methods are recorded in the program and can be selected by the employee. »The result of the transfer project reflects the idea of our format», says Andreas Nettsträter, responsible for network management and knowledge transfer in the Innovation Laboratory. »In a limited period of time, the company was able to try out augmented reality very simply – one of the much-vaunted new and innovative technologies of our time – to see if it was suitable for practical use.« In fact, Lunar also wants to test the solution on the market now in order to gain initial practical experience. They are particularly interested in seeing how people accept the new solution. Patrik Elfert and his team have already thought about further expansion stages: for example, the solution can also be used for annual inventory taking – and not only in supermarkets or in food retail.

Trust is good, transparency is better

Night Star Express, which has its headquarters in Unna, offers its customers a real competitive advantage by delivering spare parts overnight: workshops and tradespeople can then have cambelts, pumps, etc. at their disposal early in the morning and complete important orders right at the start of their working day without having to wait for normal deliveries.

The Night Star Express drivers deliver the goods to specifically defined locations which can be anything from a warehouse to the boot of a car. This is possible because the customers provide them with any keys that are needed. Depending on the location, the drivers either carry keys for all their customers in their delivery zone or only for the 20 to 25 customers on that particular tour. However, unlike the deliveries themselves, the keys they were using could not be tracked. That is why Maximilian Schellert and his team decided to take on the digitisation of their key management as part of another transfer project by the Innovation Laboratory, the results of which could also be of significance for fresh food logistics of the future, for example. The researchers developed a system for key management which is both secure and transparent, consisting of smart hardware and software architecture with a link to route planning. The keys have been equipped with RFID patches so they can be tracked and traced. A specially developed app shows exactly which driver is carrying which key. The aim is for all locations to use the same software so that only those keys needed for a tour are on the road. »Our concept is attractive for all parcel service providers who offer delivery when the recipient is not actually present – this is especially useful for food deliveries to private customers, something which is very much on the increase,« says Maximilian Schellert, head of the transfer project. »The link to route planning is also exciting: it gives the company a completely integrated concept.«

About the author

Silke Bruns is a freelance editor and regularly reports on new technical developments in the Innovation Laboratory Hybrid Services in Logistics.