Get used to it. Soon you will see R2-D2 type devices scurrying around the aisles of Walmart -- and probably other major retailers as well -- as increasingly such devices are being employed to perform some tasks previously done by humans.
Walmart is deploying robots in 50 of its stores to replenish shelves and, according to the company, save employees time so they can concentrate on other services that only humans can handle -- like selling. The company says the two-foot tall robots are outfitted with a camera that scans shelves and identifies missing items as well as items in the wrong place, with the wrong price or are otherwise mislabeled.
Walmart says the robots will NOT replace workers and will not reduce store headcount.
OK, Walmart, thanks for that assurance. Just glad I'm not a Walmart employee who has those job responsibilities. What? They're going to make me a greeter?
According to Walmart, the robots are 50 percent more efficient than humans when it comes to these inventory replenishment jobs, which a company official says employees only have time to do twice a week. Maybe that's why when you go to Walmart, the shampoo you're looking for isn't on the shelf -- it's just a big empty space. Guess nobody noticed that, but now the robot will be on the case.
“If you are running up and down the aisle and you want to decide if we are out of Cheerios or not, a human doesn’t do that job very well, and they don’t like it,” Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, told Reuters.
Excuse me, but since when do executives at companies like Walmart really care if an hourly employee actually likes his or her job?
Robots already are being used by other companies, such as Amazon in its warehouse operations. Some distribution executives have told me robots are great for handling boxes of product if they are the same size and shape, but not so much for other items like bagged snacks, candy and tobacco products that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. No doubt that will change as the devices become more sophisticated.
It is inevitable that technology will take us to the point where thousands of workers, maybe millions, eventually will be replaced by such devices. Driverless cars, even trucks, are on the way. It's a development for which our education system and our political leaders must plan and prepare, because the impact on our economy -- and our people -- could well be catastrophic in the years ahead.