The COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how chaotic grocery stores could become. With long lines, people struggling to find the items they needed, and social distancing guidelines in place, it was a huge challenge for daily shoppers. In response, stores are looking for ways to make the shopping experience simpler and more efficient.
The rise of autonomous robots coinciding with the need to simplify grocery shopping gave birth to Marty the Robot. But exactly who is Marty, and what can it do? Read on to find out more about this robot and how you might encounter him on your next shopping trip.
Also Read: AI & data-driven Starbucks – Deep Brew
Who is Marty The Robot?
Marty is a slender, gray, and white robot roaming the aisles of select grocery store chains. His cartoon eyes and friendly demeanor make it easy to spot him among the other shoppers. Marty moves slowly and stands at the height of six feet tall, or the highest shelf. As such, Marty is not one individual robot but a line of autonomous robots created by Badger Technology. Each robot weighs a hefty 140 pounds and costs $35,000.
Ahold Delhaize then unveiled the robots. Ahold Delhaize is a food and grocery retail company with subsidiaries such as Food Lion, Stop & Shop, Giant Food Stores, and Hannaford. They’ve already deployed Marty, the lithium-powered Robot, to hundreds of stores across the United States and Europe. His goal? Improve the customer’s shopping experience.
What Can Marty The Robot Do?
Upon meeting Marty, it’s hard to ignore the sign on his trunk:
“This store is monitored by Marty for your safety. Marty is an autonomous robot that uses image-capturing technology to report spills, debris, and other potential hazards to store employees to improve your shopping experience.”
Marty can detect when something is amiss in the store, such as a spill. His cameras capture images of the area, and store employees are sent an alert so they can address the issue quickly. These video capabilities are made possible through eight high-resolution cameras, which can detect potential dangers hidden from the human eye.
As for navigating the store, Marty utilizes a suite of position sensors (LiDAR) and mapping software to move around the store independently, without any human guidance. He moves slowly and is programmed to avoid customers and other obstacles. The technology uses infrared light to detect the hindrances in his path and adjust accordingly. Think of it as the backup sensor you might have in a car, but for robots!
His surveillance capabilities don’t stop there. Marty can also scan shelves and report when something is out of stock. He can check prices and automatically cross-reference the store’s inventory database, which helps him identify discrepancies between what is on the shelf and what should be there.
Will Marty Handle More Tasks In The Future?
Automation in grocery stores is only beginning, and the customer experience stands to benefit from further technological advances. It’s almost certain that Marty will soon be able to take on various customer service tasks. He could greet shoppers, provide information about store promotions, and even answer simple product questions.
Let’s take “Pepper,” for example. The cute 4-foot-tall humanoid robot from Japan is already greeting store patrons at several locations. Increased computational thinking skills will also allow Marty to take on additional functions. A true AI-powered robot could theoretically make decisions on the fly and become a real asset to the store.
As for the future of automating floor cleaning, Marty might be joined by an autonomous floor scrubber like the ones at Walmart. After all, a store with clean floors is much more appealing to shoppers than one that looks like it hasn’t been vacuumed in weeks! Since Marty is already patrolling the aisles, adding a function to his repertoire would make sense.
For now, however, Marty will remain a simple messenger, alerting store employees in case of a spill or other potential hazard.
What Are Marty The Robots Benefits?
A smart device like Marty has the potential to provide several benefits, both for store employees and customers.
Doesn’t get tired
As a machine, Marty won’t get tired or bored. He can patrol the store all day and night, providing constant surveillance while saving time for employees who typically have to cover those duties. Of course, he will need to be charged, maintained, and occasionally serviced, but overall, Marty requires much less labor than a human.
Marty also has the potential to draw more customers into the store. Many patrons have already taken to social media to post pictures of “their new friend,” Marty. The robot’s unique look and feel can create a memorable shopping experience that will make customers return for more.
Improve store cleanliness
With Marty’s help, stores can stay in top shape and keep their floors spotless. He can detect and alert store employees when something is out of place or needs cleaning up. This makes clean-up easier and faster, which leads to a more comfortable shopping experience for the customer. Since Marty is always on the lookout, stores don’t need human employees to monitor things.
One of Marty’s features is to “stand guard” at the site of potential hazards, ensuring that no one is harmed. He will shout a pre-recorded message that warns people to stay away. It can be a valuable asset to store owners who want to ensure the safety of their shoppers. For instance, Marty’s warning message can keep people from slipping and falling if the floor is wet from a spill.
Marty can also save stores money by reducing the need for a human workforce. He can handle tasks like checking shelves, scanning items, and detecting spills, freeing store employees to focus on customer service. Marty not only increases efficiency but helps cut down on labor costs as well.
Regarding his price-checking abilities, Marty can also identify discrepancies between the shelf price and store inventory. If the store has a policy of matching erroneous prices, Marty’s automatic screen-scraping ability can save it from costly refunds.
Challenges With Marty The Robot
While the cute robot can indeed complete a number of tasks, some challenges come with its deployment. The first is the fact that Marty is still learning. As mentioned above, he does not have full AI capabilities yet and relies on pre-programmed instructions to carry out his duties. That means he could miss potential hazards, identify false positives, or overlook items on the shelves that need to be restocked.
Secondly, some concerned customers worry about privacy by using a robot like Marty in public spaces. While the company insists that all data collected is used solely for store operations, some shoppers may feel uncomfortable having their movements tracked by a robot. Marty’s video images are supposedly deleted shortly after being collected, but that doesn’t stop people from worrying.
Finally, Marty’s presence brings on certain legal concerns as well. Because he is a type of surveillance device, store owners need to be aware of the applicable local laws and ensure they meet all necessary requirements before deploying him. They cannot use Marty to violate anyone’s privacy or keep tabs on workers without their knowledge.
Also Read: Inside Amazon’s Smart Warehouse
Overall, Marty the Robot’s usefulness remains to be seen. The customer response has generally been positive up to this point, but it is still too early to tell if there will be any real benefits from using him in stores. One thing is certain: having real robots in grocery stores marks a new milestone in our technological development. It offers something that was once only seen in science fiction movies.