Supermarket Chain to Employ Robot to Scan Aisles for Hazards

Giant Food Stores will soon debut a new robot employee at each of its stores.

Bearing the name “Marty” on their name tags, 500 of the gray, big-eyed robots, which stand at 6 ft 5 in tall and weigh around 130 lb, will navigate the aisles of all Giant Food's mid-Atlantic chain stores, including Giant/Martin’s and Stop & Shop, in search of hazards like spills. Once located, Marty will arrive at the perimeter of the hazard and flash yellow lights while cautioning nearby customers in both English and Spanish. It then activates an alert communicating through the store’s public address system that “clean up on aisle five” is necessary. A human employee is then dispatched to clean the site. To make this possible, Marty is equipped with an autonomous base, a 12-hour battery and rotating lidar to detect objects and movement so it doesn’t collide with shoppers, carts or other obstacles.

With the robots slated to arrive in Giant Food Stores by mid-2019, Marty already has a year of work under its belt as part of pilot programs launched last year in Giant stores in Harrisburg and Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Marty is considered part of what Steven Keith Platt, research director at Northwestern University’s Retail Analytics Council, is calling the world’s largest “front of store robot rollout.” Platt explained that while robots have been heavily employed in the manufacturing industry, there have been only a handful of examples where the technology has been used where people shop.

"This is a huge leap in getting human beings comfortable and interacting with robots,” Platt said. “It really puts robots in front of people in a retail environment. It’s the first of many more to come in the next several years.”

Although some robotics experts agree that repetitive tasks — like scanning store aisles for hazards — will likely fall to robots in the future, freeing up humans to complete other tasks, reports still suggest that millions of jobs will be lost to automation, forcing employees to either switch careers or to develop new skills. However, a spokesperson from Giant Food Stores explained that the new technology will not replace human workers. Marty will, according to Giant, only replace tasks.