Walmart Gives Up On Stock-Checking Robots

Walmart Gives Up On Stock-Checking Robots

We’ve seen the Jetsons, Star Wars, and Silent Running. In the future, all the menial jobs will be done by robots. But Walmart is reversing plans to have six-foot-tall robots scan store shelves to check stock levels. The robots, from a company called Bossa Nova Robotics, apparently worked well enough and Walmart had promoted the idea in many investor-related events, promising that robot workers would reduce labor costs while better stock levels would increase sales. So why did the retail giant say no to these ‘droids? Apparently, they found better ways to check stock and, according to a quote in the Wall Street Journal’s article about the decision, shoppers reacted negatively to sharing the aisle with the roving machines.

The robots didn’t just check stock. They could also check prices and find misplaced items. You can see a promotional video about the device below.

We have to wonder what this means for robots in general. People like us — Hackaday readers — tend to embrace new technology and we are more likely to follow a robot like this around trying to understand its operation. But we aren’t the majority. Are people afraid for their jobs? Being injured by a runaway machine? A robot uprising?

On the other hand, Walmart continues to use other robots. Notably, I’ve noticed QR-like barcodes that the floor mopper machines use to locate themselves. They also use less mobile robots like cash counters. However, the floor moppers aren’t rolling around during prime shopping hours.

We figure Bossa Nova still has a play. There are plenty of warehouses and maybe even warehouse stores where a machine rolling down an aisle wouldn’t warrant a second look. But if Walmart is afraid to expose customers to the device, we doubt many other retailers will for awhile. Unless there’s something about the demographic. Would people shopping in Home Depot be less worried about a machine? We don’t know.

We also have to wonder what this means for other working robots. We’ve seen robots preparing fast food and driving your car, for example. People are spending a lot of time thinking about how robots will work with coworkers. Maybe they need to also factor in how customers will react to being served by robots or even just sharing space with them.

What do you think? Will it bother you to see a robot taxi drive pass you on the freeway while you eat your robotically-prepared hamburger? Or do you think those who oppose are just modern-day Luddites?