Robot janitors are coming soon to a Walmart near you.
While we rather like the idea of a team of androids making their way around the store with a mop and bucket, the reality isn’t quite as cool as that.
Instead, the company is using something that looks a bit like an oversized mobility scooter. A self-driving one. You might also think of it as a giant Roomba.
The autonomous janitor is the work of San Diego, California-based Brain Corp., and Walmart is aiming to have 360 of them working at its stores within a couple of months. The imminent launch follows successful testing of the machine at some of its stores in 2017.
Interestingly, the robots may be deployed when customers are around, so look out for one next time you visit. According to Brain Corp., the robot uses multiple sensors to scan its surroundings for people and obstacles, so if it does get too close, the worst you can expect is an impromptu shoe shine.
As you can see from the video above, the self-driving floor scrubber comes with a seat, but it’s not for a safety driver. Or for kids to play on.
Instead, it allows an employee to quickly map a route during an initial ride that trains the vehicle. After that, it’s simply a case of hitting a button to activate the machine’s autonomous cleaning mode to send it on its way.
John Crecelius, Walmart’s vice president of central operations, described the robot as “a powerful tool” that can take care of monotonous tasks so that its human staff can spend more time engaging with customers.
Brain Corp. CEO Eugene Izhikevich said his company’s technology “allows robots to effectively and safely function in complex, crowded environments, ensuring increased productivity and efficiency.”
Walmart has been increasing its efforts to embrace cutting-edge technology in a bid to improve its business. Besides the robot janitors, it’s also using virtual reality headsets with specially designed training videos to help enhance the skills of store employees.
It’s also launched an automated in-store Pickup Tower — think of it as a giant vending machine — from which customers can collect their online orders.
Looking ahead, it’s currently testing product-picking robots for online grocery orders, and has even patented a high-tech shopping cart that must surely be the most amazing one ever designed. Whether it ever sees the light of day, however, is another question entirely.