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Walmart Has Fired Its Robot Workers

by : Hannah Smith on : 03 Nov 2020 11:11
Bossa Nova/PA Images

For years, we’ve been led to believe that robots were destined to take over the workforce; that over the next few decades millions of humans would lose their jobs because robots could do them better and for less money.

Well, it looks like the tables have turned, with Walmart set to lay off its shop floor robot workforce.

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In a blow to believers in machine supremacy, the world’s largest supermarket chain announced that it was scrapping the use of ‘roving robots’ to scan shelves, after the company concluded that humans could do the job faster.

The newly unemployed robots in question are six-foot tall inventory-scanning machines, which Walmart was using for stocktakes and to keep lists of online availability up to date. The retail giant had introduced the machines in partnership with robotics company Bossa Nova Robotics, and over the past five years had worked to place the robot workers into 1,000 of its 4,700 US stores.

YouTube/Bossa Nova Robotics

Walmart has been vocal about its support for automated labour for years now, promoting them as R2-D2-style ‘sidekicks’ that could help reduce labour costs and increase sales. But sadly for the robots, it looks like it’s had a change of heart. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company has concluded that simpler solutions, such as hiring more human workers to staff the shop floor, were actually more effective than the use of robots.

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A spokesperson for Walmart said:

We learned a lot about how technology can assist associates, make jobs easier and provide a better customer experience,

We will continue testing new technologies and investing in our own processes and apps to best understand and track our inventory and help move products to our shelves as quickly as we can

Apparently, Walmart CEO John Furner was also concerned that an army of six-foot-tall robots patrolling supermarket aisles could scare off some customers.

YouTube / Bossa Nova Robotics
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Unfortunately, the decision does mean bad news for some human workers. Walmart has officially ended its contract with Bossa Nova, which the WSJ reports has led to the robotics company having to lay off around 50% of its workforce.

Walmart says it will continue to use more basic automated machines for other tasks in its stores, such as cleaning floors and automatically counting cash, but ultimately the company has concluded that ‘we see an improvement in stores with the robots, but we don’t see enough of an improvement’.

Maybe humans aren’t so useless after all.

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Topics: Technology, Now, Robotics, Tech, Walmart

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Wall Street Journal
  1. Wall Street Journal

    Walmart Scraps Plan To Have Robots Scan Shelves