Walmart pulled an Elon Musk this week — electing to retain human workers over robots incapable of besting their flesh-and-blood precursors after an attempt to automate inventory tracking, according to an initial report from the Wall Street Journal.
Walmart thinks humans do their jobs better than robots, after all
In 2017, Walmart began tests of fully autonomous bots manufactured by Bossa Nova Robotics in roughly 50 stores. They can scan several items at once, and — not unlike self-driving cars — use 3D imagining to avoid obstacles without losing track of areas in need of extra attention.
The idea was for robots to monitor stock levels, pricing, and misplaced items — to relieve the load on human staff and ultimately reduce the cost of labor, Engadget reports.
However, since COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect, Walmart discovered how workers collecting online deliveries from shelves were also able to gather inventory data. Now the company plans to use these people for location and level monitoring — basically taking the robots' jobs.
Additionally, CEO John Furner raised concerns about the way shoppers might react to the robots rolling up and down the aisles.
Company robots to 'provide better customer experience'
While robots like the Roomba-type floor scrubbers continue with their lot, inventory robots will have to surrender their "jobs" to the people. But Walmart says the experiment wasn't for nothing. "We learned a lot about how technology can assist associates, make jobs easier and provide a better customer experience," said a spokesperson to the WSJ.
One wonders which company will be next — after Elon Musk's Tesla and Walmart — to try out automated inventory, at the expense of human employees. It's also difficult to predict how customers will react to this fact, let alone the presence of robots instead of humans perusing the aisles of shopping areas. While the future is often wonderful, it's also sometimes alarming.