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.