Robotics and AI will revolutionise $1tr ecommerce industry: CAIS20


The advancement of robotics, combined with artificial intelligence, will revolutionise many aspects of the economy – but this will also lead to challenges for society and raises some ethical questions.

That was the heart of a debate in a session called Investing At The Intersection of Technology at the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit (CAIS20), which is taking place in the Cayman Islands this week (February 6-7).

Chaired by Claire Griffin, director, KPMG, the panellists described how robotics and artificial intelligence will revolutionise certain sectors, including the rapidly growing ecommerce groceries market. Steve Toebes, chief robotics officer at HDS Global, suggested ecommerce groceries will become a $1 trillion industry.

Although this is a very fast-growing space, it is highly competitive, he noted, with many of the major players losing a lot of money. The biggest reason for this, he suggested, is a lack of efficiency in their systems.

HDS Global has developed so-called smart warehouses to change this for its customers. It has developed advanced robotics to cover every aspect of the warehouse requirements around picking and selecting food items, which is also combined with the use of artificial intelligence to create the optimum way of doing things.

“We picture the warehouse as a whole system, each aspect of it complementing the other parts and with all tasks being done to maximum efficiency through the use of AI,” said Toebes. “Where systems have a human involved in the process that can cause problems, since humans can never keep pace with robots. It is a question of creating the right system where they work together and complement each other for maximum efficiency.”

He also noted that company’s new technology fits well with the principles of ESG (environmental, social and governance), an increasingly important requirement for many investors. He said this is a new trend in the sector but one which will have a big influence of the development of technology and how it is used.

“I have been in robotics for more than 19 years and just in the past year I have been blown away by how many investors have been asking about our ESG plan,” Toebes said. “There are many things we already do but the fundamentals of our technology also fit well with this. We are looking at building vertical farms on top of our warehouses, supplying fresh produce on site. There are so many exciting things ahead for this technology.”

Yaro Tenzer, co-founder, Righthand Robotics, explained how the technology his company has developed also has the potential to revolutionise the challenges of order fulfilment for retailers. It has developed a very sophisticated robot capable of picking and placing items with accuracy and dexterity while also constantly learning how to do it better.

“It’s all about efficiency for our customers,” he said. “Their warehouses are struggling to fulfil demand but they are starting to combine the data with robotics in a way that is revolutionising that process.”

The discussion also touched on the extent to which governments should be involved in development of technology and whether any form of regulation would be appropriate in some areas. Tenzer said he has not seen a need for that, but agreed that at some point there should be a discussion on how much the government should be involved.

Aymeric Sallin, CEO, NanoDimension, a venture capital firm focused on nanotechnology, argued that the most exciting application of technology is in the healthcare areas, especially as a number of technologies from different spheres converge. “We are seeing the potential for personalised medicine and personalised manufacturing alongside that,” he said. He potential is incredible.”

CAIS20, KPMG, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Claire Griffin, Cayman Islands

Cayman Funds