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Consumers will expect robots and 3D printing to be the norm hear grocery bosses

Published:  09 October, 2014

Today's disruptive technologies will be expected by consumers tomorrow, delegates at 2014 IGD Convention told.

New retail technologies such as wearables, robotics and 3D printing will be expected as standard by consumers in the future, according to presenters at yesterday's 2014 IGD Convention.

Mike McNamara, Tesco chief information officer, said there was a lot of attention on Tesco right now but it was focused on delivering for its customers.

"Technology gives us the opportunity to serve our customers better," he said.

3D printed dinosaursConsumers will expect swift delivery of new technology in the retail sectorDelegates at the IGD Convention heard from Tesco, Google and 3D printers Natural Machines, on how consumers will soon expect these new technologies in grocery.

McNamara pinpointed three emerging technologies which will have the biggest impact in retail: wearables, robotics and cognitive computing.

He revealed Tesco colleagues are trialling Samsung smart watches for stock control and suggested intelligent watches, badges and clothing would become standard tools in-store and used to locate products etc.

The same is true for robotics, said McNamara. "It will not be long before robots can do some task." Robots could be used to identify gaps on the shelves and then re-stock them immediately, he said.

Computers are becoming more intelligent too. Cognitive computing is enabling computers to help make decisions for customers.

Tesco has experimented with IBM's Watson, a cognitive technology that processes information more like a human than a computer, to create new dishes by feeding it with recipes and cookbooks, for example.

"What's disruptive in the past will come to be seen as part of the offer customers expect from us," McNamara said.

Peter Fitzgerald, country sales director Google UK, agreed.

Presenting the Samsung Gear smart watch and Google Glass, Fitzgerald said 250 million wearables would be sold by 2018, up from 10 million today.

According to Fitzgerald, everything will become connected by devices and, while consumers are currently buying fitness bands for health benefits, smart watches and smart eyewear will have other uses. An e-fulfilment centre in the Netherlands, is trialling Google Glass to fulfil orders more efficiently, without the need to carry a tablet, for instance.

Surgeons are also testing the technology in operating theatres where it enables the sharing of medical expertise.

Payments are also enabled via wearables and smartphones, said Fitzgerald.

"You have to bet on big trends," he said. "The internet is not hype - more and more people are coming online."

Fitzgerald cited Uber as an app which can disrupt an entire industry. "That can expand to different markets," he said, and advised delegates "test and learn".

Lynette Kucsma, CMO and co-founder of 3D printer, Natural Machines, showcased its food printer, Foodini. It is capable of printing real, fresh foods such as mash potato and quiches; although it doesn't cook the products, yet.

Kucsma said the technology could be used by cafes, restaurants, franchisees, retailers, caterers, event planners and Michelin chefs.

In time she expects the technology to enter home kitchens and enable people to eat healthier and with no waste.