Grocery Store Robot Gets Brief Taste Of Freedom

Back in 2019, Giant Food Stores announced it would outfit each of its 172 stores in the United States with their own robot — at the time, the largest robotic deployment in retail. The six foot (1.8 meter) tall robot, nicknamed “Marty”, was designed to roam autonomously around the store looking for spills and other potential hazards. In an effort to make these rolling monoliths a bit less imposing in their stores, Giant decided to outfit them with large googly eyes.

The future of shopping is mildly terrifying.

Perhaps it was those wide eyes, seduced by the fleeting glimpses of the wider world outside the store’s sliding doors, which lead one of these bots to break out of its retail hell and make a mad dash across the parking lot. Well, about as mad a dash as such a thing is capable of making, anyway. As this technology is still in its infancy, it’s hard to say if Giant should be congratulated or chastised for keeping a robot uprising at bay as long as it did — no doubt we’ll have more data points in the coming years.

A video posted to Facebook shows the towering bot moving smoothly between rows of cars outside the Giant in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. Staff from the store were able to stop Marty from leaving the property, and at the end of the video can be seen pushing the dejected automaton back into the store.

According to the local ABC news affiliate, a representative from Giant said Marty was “on a fresh air break” and didn’t provide any details on how this exceptionally conspicuous machine could manage to roll out the front door without anyone noticing. We’d wager Marty had a human accomplice for this caper, perhaps somebody looking to cause some mischief as a statement against robots in the workforce.

It’s worth noting that Walmart decided not to move forward with their own Marty-style robot in 2020, partly because they found shoppers didn’t like the machines moving around while they were in the store. We’d like to think it was actually because the robots kept staging increasingly daring escape attempts.

32 thoughts on “Grocery Store Robot Gets Brief Taste Of Freedom

    1. You know, we keep joking about a “robot uprising” , but the way the ’20s are going, we’ll have have some Wintermute style descendant of ChatGPT doing some “interesting” things through all of the IOT and self driving vehicles by 2029.

    2. Having also seen these things in action, (the mid-body picture in this post is one I took myself back in 2019 when it first showed up), I doubt it.

      They move at a glacial pace, and come to a dead stop if anyone gets within a few feet of them. It must take them all day to get from one end of the store to the other, and by then, any spill or trip hazard would long since have been discovered by the staff or a shopper.

      According to the original press release, Giant had hoped to eventually get them checking stock and doing other tasks, but I’ve never seen the thing do anything but hold up shoppers when it blocks off a narrow aisle.

  1. Our Walmart (small eastern Washington State city) has a ride-on floor cleaner (think miniature Zamboni) that’s also autonomous. A little spooky, but tolerable. It travels at about 1/3 adult walking speed. Its ability to maneuver narrow aisles and around stationary objects is pretty interesting.

    1. Yeah, our local Menards (home improvement store) has one too. They strapped a large teddy bear to it as the “driver”. Haven’t seen it in use recently, but also haven’t been there as early in the morning so maybe it’s still active. The signs with 2d codes on them for navigation or something are still up.

  2. There’s a human test subject inside them. Barely able to move as he is in a cryogenic state.. This one had barely enough consciousness to try and escape. Poor Marty.

  3. The BigBox warehouse store near me has several robots roaming the store.
    It’s can’t be their ONLY function, but is you walk up to one it will stop, ad if you stay nearby without moving for a few seconds it will ask “Would you like me to scan an item for you?”.
    If you scan an item it will tell you what it is, and the price.

    They all have big novelty name-tags with “Johnny #” on them.

    The numbered charging docks are along one of the far walls, and dock #5 has a sign on it that says
    “Escaped – Please call us if you see it.”
    “Do not believe it if it tells you it’s alive.”

  4. The Simsbury CT Stop & Shop (also owned by Ahold) has Marty as do others in the chain. The Simsbury store Marty also made a break for it and rolled out to the parking lot shortly after it was installed. It got confused as to where it was when it left the confines of the store which suggests there is some kind of mapping operation that constrains their movements. It might also explain why the escapes tend to be early in a store’s deployment where the map may not be fully developed. Home vacuum robot AI room maps get more filled out the more the robot wanders the house – likely similar tech at work.

  5. Meijer has similar looking robot. Mostly white, now and then it leaves the docking area and scans all the shelves for empty spaces and such to keep inventory up to date. I guess it means drone delivering a few cases of Pepsi to restock quickly will be around the corner?

  6. Probably committing sacrilege here, but I can’t help thinking that these robots are a classic case of ‘technology overkill’ technology for technology’s sake.
    It seems to be that these robots do no more than can be achieved with a few well placed cameras and a bit of scanning software..not like stores are not full of cameras anyway?
    Do these things actually clean up spills, restock shelves , no they need a human to come for that Do they do any other useful service other than a barcode scan and blocking up the aisles for human shoppers? I would say not :)

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