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Robots at Walmart

As of late 2017, San Francisco-based Bossa Nova had robots scanning the shelves of 50 Walmart locations across the USA.

Recently, they reported that the staff love the robots, giving them name tags and defending the robots like fellow employees. The shoppers, on the other hand, react to the robots in one of “two different extremes. One of them is natural curiosity. They are going to go ask what it does, and why. When a robot is first deployed, we have a chaperone in the store to answer those questions. But at least 50 percent completely ignore it like it is any other device, which surprised us.” Perhaps those reactions have something to do with the cues the robot uses when interacting with humans? “We spent a lot of time researching the right way for the robots to interact with humans. …today when our robot moves it emits a sound so it doesn’t surprise people, and it uses light to indicate when people get too close.”

Have you interacted with one of these robot employees at Walmart? If so, what did you think of it? Do you have any suggestions or ideas for improving the human-robot interaction? Does early adoption of these robots in-store change your opinion of Walmart as a retailer? In general, do you have more favorable opinions of companies that embrace emerging technologies sooner?

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I wonder if the form factor of this robot might not have something to do with the fairly neutral customer reactions. It looks more like a tool than a being. So, it’s not signaling “interact with me”.

On the other hand, the actual workers do interact with it, so they are more inclined to personalize it, despite its form factor.

I was actually able to attend a networking event at Bossa Nova last summer, and one of the points the crew there spoke about was this form factor. By having the large base and the thinner top column, the eye is drawn towards the heavier base, making it look much less massive overall for a robot that is so tall. If they designed it to be relatively uniform in size all the way up, it would certainly be a lot more intimidating to be near due to sheer bulk. It was interesting to get up close and see one running periodically in person other than following one of these robots around a Walmart store.

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More on the subject.

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I have been involved in the installation of another robot at Walmart, called the Packbot. I can send some pictures along, but it is being used to automate their “site to store” function.

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Very cool! Please do!

the scanner on that reminds me of this robot I hacked together for 3D body scanning.

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