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Robots apply for janitor jobs, and are hired!

Auto-C, the janitor robot starting service in January 2019. Photo credit: Brain Corp.

Walmart announced the hiring of 360 janitors for its stores in US. This makes the news because the janitors are not human beings, rather robots endowed with artificial intelligence.

Indeed, these will be smart robots. They will sweep the floor and will also collect data as they move along the shelves.

Walmart has a first set of 100 robots in service in its stores, produced by Brain Corp, and is deploying 360 more starting January. As any human employee, the robots need training.

Once they arrive at the store one (human) employee take each robot “by hand”, so to say, accompanying it along all the aisle it will have to scrub. As it is taken around the robot uses its sensors to create a map (the lay of the land). Once the orientation tour is completed the robot can start operation and it is fully autonomous. It is able to operate also in a crowded environment, being careful not to bump onto customers.

The robot brain is powered with artificial intelligence that does more than finding its way along the shelves and making sure all is clean. As it moves around the robot brain collects data on how many people are at a certain place, what they seem to be interested in the depletion of a certain product and so on. All these data are processed and transformed into valuable information for the store manager and Walmart.

It does not end here. The robot moves slowly, some 1-2 miles per hour, at a walking pace and its sensors are detecting the presence of kids and the robot brain makes sure kids do not jump on the robot seeing it as a merry-go-round. If they detect a kid considering a joyride they stop and flash yellow light plus electronic beeping sound.

So far Walmart sees these robotic janitors as add on to their stores, not as a replacement of human workers. Let’s get back to this in a year time and see how it evolves.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.