Robotics can be absolutely amazing in terms of applications – just consider the Mars rover and the companion helicopter expected to soon start test flights on the Red Planet.
Back here on Earth, there are countless great applications for robotics, but then there other ones – some cooked up by marketing and merchandising people – that are just stupid and pointless.
This is an autonomous robot-fixture thingie with a screen that roams around a Shop-Rite grocery store in Monroe, NY, maybe an hour north of NYC, trying to get people to add candy bars to their purchases.
The unit is being tested by the company that makes Mar’s and Snicker’s bars and M&Ms. It uses sensors like Lidar so shopping days don’t turn into demolition derbies. The side benefit touted is the analytics generated by the thing rolling around. But way less costly methods – like the video feeds from security cameras – will also give managers insights on shopper patterns.
One store in a town of less than 10,000 is not a harbinger of a time when rolling robots will be chasing shoppers around like beggar kids on the rougher streets of Mumbai. It is reasonable to guess that the manufacturer is funding this test on its nickel to show real-world usage.
I don’t see this winning a lot of fans beyond little kids. Any adolescent boy over nine years of age will instantly be looking for ways to abuse this thing in some way.
Robots in stores doing re-stocking, sanitizing, cleaning and doing planogram analytics all make sense. A robot version of a store clerk that tries to drive impulse buy does not.
Along with being irritants, these sorts of things can also be dangerous: