The robots are coming to Walmart.
The retailer is testing out shelf-scanning robots in more than 50 stores across the U.S. The two-foot tall robots aren’t anything out of a sci-fi movie – they’re basic gray rolling boxes with a large arm and an onboard camera. They sit in recharging stations in the store until a human employee gives them a “mission”. Their sole purpose is to scan the shelves, looking for sold out, missing or misplaced items. It can also check for incorrectly priced items, something a human wouldn’t be able to do on the fly.
When the robot finished his store sweep, it sends the info to a human worker, whose job it is to re-stock, re-price or re-order. The robot’s job is fairly repetitious and its safe to say that the store associates most likely won’t miss the part of their job that the robot is replacing. Having robots do the repetitive, time-consuming tasks also lets associates spend more time with the customers (or so it goes in theory).
Walmart CTO Jeremy King tells Reuters that the company won’t actually be replacing any human employees with the robots. The headcount in stores will stay the same, with the robots merely augmenting the work of the associates.
Robots are becoming more ubiquitous in retail and e-commerce, as merchants try to use technology to create greater efficiencies. You’ll just have to hope that those efficiencies don’t come at a great cost.