Supermarket robot company closes Sheffield office due to online shopping boom

A supermarket robotics company has closed its Sheffield office after the pandemic led to a boom in shopping online.

Saturday, 9th January 2021, 4:45 pm

Bossa Nova closed the business - its European headquarters - and made all staff redundant.

Red McKay, former European managing director, said he personally tried to raise investment because they had interested customers in the UK and Europe.

But all parties were affected by Covid-19 and ‘it didn’t lead to anything’.

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Red McKay, MD of Bossa Nova’s European operations, with a robot in the Sheffield office. Pic Steve Ellis

US-based Bossa Nova makes 6ft roving robots that scan shelves and alert the warehouse to missing items. They are said to reduce labour costs and increase sales by making sure products are kept in stock.

At the height of its success, there were 500 in Walmarts in the US and the firm was trialing them in Sheffield.

But Mr McKay said the pandemic led to a big drop in shoppers in stores and a switch of focus to operations in the warehouse.

He added: “Unfortunately with Covid-19 the investment was pulled from the European office. I had to lead the business through insolvency. Not a high point but, everyone was re-employed almost straight away.

A Bossa Nova robot in a supermarket.

“There is a future for the technology and C19 is accelerating the need and development of the product, but for now Bossa Nova in Europe is in our past rather than the future.

“To work on technology so leading edge and build a great local team in Sheffield was a career highlight.

“I think warehouse inventory management and movement has been the priority due to a rapid pivot from just eight per cent of UK consumers shopping online to some estimate saying over 80 per cent.

“I don’t think it’s clear who will really be the winners as the cost of new services won’t be public for months to come.”

In November, it was reported that Walmart had ended its use of Bossa Nova robots after finding that humans can help get similar results during the coronavirus pandemic when it hired more staff.

The robots are fitted with lights and eight cameras and scoot around autonomously covering the biggest stores in under two hours, it is claimed.

Some feared they would take jobs. But Bossa Nova insists they free staff from a monotonous job and give them time to help pack bags or pick orders for online orders.

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