Grocery store robot patrols aisles, spots spills

“Robo ‘cleanup’ in aisle three!” Some grocery stores in the U.S. are calling on robots in an attempt to keep their floors clean.

Giant Food Stores has already piloted the wheeled robot, dubbed Marty, at its stores in Harrisburg and Carlisle, Pa. Earlier this week, the retail chain announced plans to introduce Marty in all of its 172 stores. The robot roll-out is expected to be complete by mid-2019.

“The in-store robots, which move around the store unassisted, are being used to identify hazards, such as liquid, powder and bulk food-items spills and provide reporting that enables quick corrective action,” explained Giant in a statement. “The robots’ efforts free up associates to spend more time serving with customers. They also help stores mitigate risk caused by such spills.”

While the robot, which is built by Badger Technologies, can detect mess, there could be a human watching from behind its cartoonish googly eyes.

A robot named Marty cleans the floors at a Giant grocery store in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

A robot named Marty cleans the floors at a Giant grocery store in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Badger Technologies CEO Tim Rowland says its camera-equipped robots stop after detecting a mess. But to make sure, humans working in a control center in the Philippines review the imagery before triggering a cleanup message over the loudspeaker.

Rowland says 25 of the robots are now operating at certain Giant, Martin’s and Stop & Shop stores, with 30 more arriving each week. The chains are all part of Dutch parent company Ahold Delhaize.

In addition, the robot could also be used to check shelves to see when items are out of stock and monitor prices. “Our autonomous robots operate safely alongside shoppers and employees,” explains Badger Technologies on its website.

Marty uses lidar laser technology as well as high resolution and 3-D depth cameras to map and navigate stores.

The googly eyes are fake, but each robot has eight cameras — some directed down at the floor and others that can see shelves.

A robot observed Tuesday at a Stop & Shop store in Seekonk, Massachusetts, alerted store associates to a price tag that had fallen in one aisle, and a tiny sprig of herbs in another. After moving along for a few minutes, it returned to the scene of each spill and waited until an employee pushed a button to acknowledge that the debris was picked up.

It’s not the only robot that U.S. shoppers might spot this year. Walmart and Midwestern supermarket chain Schnucks have deployed robots that help monitor inventory.

Not all robot forays into the corporate realm have gone so smoothly. In 2017, for example, a Knightscope K5 robot patrolling a Washington, D.C. office building took a plunge into a fountain.

A union that represents Giant and Stop & Shop workers says it’s keeping an eye on Marty. It remains to be seen what the groceries will ultimately use the technology for.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers