Apparently, robots could use a union.
Super-store retailer Walmart has ended a contract dating back to 2015 with Bossa Nova Robotics, in favor of utilizing its human employees. The Wall Street Journal first reported that with Walmart's online sales skyrocketing since the coming of the pandemic, store associates have had more opportunity to walk the aisles and determine inventory needs as they filled orders for customers.
The lay-offs concern six-foot robots that would zoom down aisles keeping track of the products that were on the shelves. They would report inventory needs to associates in real-time, making the restocking process of the giant stores go faster. The contract with Bossa Nova Robotics started small, employing the shelf-scanning robots in only 50 of their stores in 2017. Since then, that number has grown to 500 locations, and in January of this year, BNR stated that they would be bringing their robots to another 650 locations.
Look how fast this thing moves! (Courtesy of Walmart via Twitter)
Unfortunately for them, Walmart has decided to terminate the contract, laying off an undetermined number of the shelf-scanning machines. In a statement to The Verge, a spokesperson for Walmart said: “We’ve worked with Bossa Nova for five years, and together we learned a lot about how technology can assist associates... 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."
Indeed, their robotic brethren will be kept on the payroll. Machines that clean floors and assist with unloading inventory have been used by the company since 2018 and will still be put to use.
So what kind of unemployment can robots collect? It's unknown whether or not anyone has addressed this issue. Let's not make the robots mad, okay?
But in all seriousness, this can't be good news for Bossa Nova Robotics, however, back in April, CNN Wire reported that the pandemic could lead to an increase in reliance on the machines to help lighten the load for workers. Although Walmart is gearing up for seasonal hiring of flesh-and-blood employees for the holiday season, other retailers may still require the assistance of machines to make the potential chaos go more smoothly.
Have you seen robots at your local Walmart? Do you see robots anywhere else? How many robots do you see daily? Maybe we should talk about that. Let us know in the comments!