The Robots Are Coming

A Walmart robot – Source: Walmart Inc.

If you have not seen a robot motoring around a local retailer, you will. Historically, robots have been deployed mostly in manufacturing. However, robots are now fulfilling more and more tasks in retail. They are flipping burgers in restaurants and patrolling shopping malls for security. In big box retailers, robots are patrolling the aisles and scanning the shelves.

Walmart is expanding its shelf-scanning robots by 650 bringing its fleet to 1,000. The six-foot-tall robots are made by San Francisco-based Bossa Nova Robotics Inc. Each robot is equipped with 15 cameras. The robots roam the aisles looking for items which are out of stock, and send alerts to store employees’ smartphones who can take appropriate action. The robots can also report if the price on an item is different than the price indicated on the shelf. Industry analysts claim out of stock items cost retailers nearly a trillion dollars in lost sales per year.

Some employees are chatting about the robots as “job stealers”. The employees have a right to be concerned. Other robots can scrub floors and unload trucks. Walmart claims the robots make it possible to redeploy employees to less mundane jobs. That can be true in the short term, but eventually the jobs being eliminated by robots will far outpace the redeployment opportunities. Only one presidential candidate talked about the impending problem, but he dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary.

To learn more about the coming robots, read Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better.

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