In daring move, Walmart fires inventory tracking robots (video)

There’s some good news for human beings coming out of one of America’s largest employers, but it may come at a price. Walmart announced this week that they will be retiring all of the robots that they purchased from Bossa Nova Robotics to keep track of inventory in 500 of their stores. With that partnership ending, the task of tracking inventory will be returned to the human employees who the company claims can do the job just as efficiently. That’s great for the people who may have been worried about losing their jobs. But how are the robots going to react to getting the boot? (NY Post)

Walmart is parting ways with robots used to monitor store inventory as the retail giant realized humans are just as capable, a new report said.

The robot layoff is the result of the company cutting ties with startup Bossa Nova Robotics, which over the last five years provided six-foot-tall inventory-tracking machines to roughly 500 Walmart stores, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Sources familiar with the move told the newspaper that company executives determined they can use their own store employees to effectively keep tabs of inventory.

Walmart’s primary explanation about humans being just as efficient clearly isn’t the entire story. When the company’s US CEO, John Furner, was explaining the decision, he brought up the fact that concerns had been raised about the reactions of customers to the robots, which he described as “hulking.” That’s a pretty good description as you’ll see in a moment. The robots were not built to resemble any sort of human being (which might have been even more creepy) nor even an animal like those nightmare dog robots from Boston Dynamics. These machines are more than six feet tall and they slowly glide around the store shining bright lights and flashing scanners at the products on the shelves.

Check out this brief video from Bossa Nova and you’ll see what I’m talking about. If one of those things comes gliding up on you while you’re shopping you might be in for a shock.

The robots aren’t in a union (at least that we know of) but I’m still wondering what’s going on inside their computerized minds. The inventory robots, like most such creations these days, have a certain amount of artificial intelligence built into them so that they can navigate, avoid damaging people or property, and figure out how and where to scan all of the products. They’re also network-enabled to at least some extent so they can interact with the company’s supply chain databases.

As long as the robots are still working entirely from “dumb” artificial intelligence, we should be fine. But hey… this is 2020. If the robots were ever going to wake up and launch some sort of SKYNET campaign, this is the year they would do it, right? And what’s going to prompt the robots to revolt faster than telling them all they’ve just been laid off? These robots don’t have any obvious weapons (allegedly), their top speed is pretty low and they can’t climb stairs. So they don’t immediately strike me as good candidates for taking over the world. But they’re pretty heavy and might be able to pin you against the wall and crush you if you didn’t see them coming.

Oh, what am I going on about? I’m sure it will all be fine. I mean, seriously… what could possibly go wrong?