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.

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Small Swedish Stores Are Miniature Oases In A National Food Desert

It all started one night in 2016 after [Robert Ilijason] dropped the last remaining jar of baby food in the house, breaking it. On the 20-minute drive to the nearest supermarket, he had an idea: what if there were small, 24-hour convenience-level grocery stores that could fill the glaring need for access to basics across the country?

Sweden has lost a few thousand smaller grocery stores in the last 25 years or so, mostly in rural areas. For many people living outside the cities, the nearest place to buy milk is several miles away, at a huge supermarket that’s either in a city, or close to it. After [Robert] built Sweden’s first 24-hour unmanned convenience store, the idea received quite a bit of media attention.

Five years and a pandemic later, the concept is still going strong. A chain of 30 of these bite-sized bodegas have popped up all over Sweden, run by a company called Lifvs. They have no staff at all, not even a cashier. Instead, shoppers unlock the door with their phones. They scan all their barcodes into an app, which provides a bill every month and is linked to both their bank account and national identity system. Beyond that, security is in the form of a single camera.

Because these tiny stores are staff-less, the prices can be kept relatively low. The only problem is that the technology is a bit of an issue for some older residents. Back in 2016, [Robert Ilijason] was trying to figure out another way for customers to unlock the door, but it doesn’t look like Lifvs has solved that problem yet.

One thing you can’t complain about with a store like this is the selection. We have to wonder if shoppers are more or less likely to encounter fasciated fruit amongst the produce.