The days of hearing “Clean up on aisle 7” on the grocery store intercom are numbered. Ahold Delhaize is bringing nearly 500 robots to roam the aisles of GIANT/MARTIN’s and Stop & Shop stores to identify messes.

Dubbed “Marty,” the Badger Technologies robot has been in tests at GIANT locations where, according to the press release, the robots were “…easily recognized by customers in stores by their friendly appearance where they were tested and used to identify hazards, such as liquid, powder and bulk food item spills and provide reporting that enables corrective action.” So the robot doesn’t clean up any messes at the moment, it just lets us humans know where to go to with the mop.

What’s not mentioned in this press announcement is any kind of shelf-scanning or inventory management that Marty will perform. Badger’s website lists inventory management and data analytics as part of its suite of products, so it has the capabilities. But from the press release and a Badger corporate blog post, this rollout seems to be more about risk mitigation rather than making sure there are enough rolls of Bounty paper towels available at any given time. Perhaps cleanup and risk management is a more pressing issue for Ahold Delhaize, and more shelf-scanning functionality will be added to the robots at a later date.

Ahold Delhaize seems to be a big believer in robots. In addition to these 500 Martys rolling around its floors, the company also enlisted Takeoff to build out robot fulfillment centers in the back of some Ahold Delhaize locations. Albertsons is piloting a similar system with Takeoff as well, and Walmart is building and testing out its own in-store robotic fulfillment center.

But. As much as I love robots, I have to imagine these are a stop gap measure until cameras and computer vision take over. Cashierless checkout systems like Grabango and Trigo Vision use ceiling-mounted cameras to automatically monitor what people purchase. However, they also provide stores with an always-on inventory system. Robots can roam around the store, but if someone picks up a box of cereal after the robot has rolled by, that won’t get identified until the robot comes back around. Cameras and computer vision can keep an eye out and monitor that in real time all the time. Computer vision might not be as good as identifying hazards like spilled water or milk on a white floor now, but cameras and AI continue to get better and will likely take over for robots like Badger at some point.

What does the future of robots look like? How will they interact with AI systems? If you are curious about the answers to these questions, you should definitely come to Articulate, our first-ever food robot and automation conference on April 16 in San Francisco. Tickets are limited, get yours today!

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