Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon, America’s middle class must come to the realization that the country’s largest employer–Walmart is quietly testing an army of robots that soon will replace their jobs. The latest installment is an autonomous floor scrubber being tested at five store locations near the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The autonomous cleaning robot dubbed Emma, an A.I. navigated system capable of operating floor care equipment on nightshifts, is able to clean the entire store front without human interaction. San Diego-based startup Brain Corp., works with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop novel machine learning algorithms that focus on taking jobs from middle class Americans. BrainOS is the company’s flagship product that enables robots to “perceive their environments, control motion, and navigate using visual cues and landmarks, while seeing and avoiding people and obstacles”.
A Walmart spokesperson, Kory Lundberg, confirmed to Chip Cutter, Managing editor at LinkedIn, that Walmart was indeed testing the robotic scrubbers, but said it is still in a “proof of concept” phase.
“We’re always testing new ideas and new technology,” Lundberg said. “We still have a lot more to learn about how this technology will work best for our different retail locations.”
According to LinkedIn, here are more details documenting the ‘secret tests’ of robotic scrubbers at various Supercenters..
Multiple employees who work at the retailer’s 24-hour Supercenter in Pineville, Mo., about 20 minutes north of Walmart’s home office, confirmed the use of the device to me this week, saying it had been tested in their store for about a month this fall.
In a private Facebook group earlier this month, someone who claims to be a worker at the Pineville store shared a photo of the greyish vehicle making a turn near a display for $78 deer feeders. No one is seated in the driver’s seat, and two “caution, cleaning in progress” banners are shown on both sides of the device. An ICE logo is also affixed; Holland, Mich.-based International Cleaning Equipment, a Brain Corp. partner, manufactures the scrubbing equipment itself.
In October, Walmart said it’s rolling out self-scanning robots in more than 50 U.S. stores to replenish inventory on shelves. The company is determined to automate the daily tasks of its workers, but said the bots would not lead to a drop in headcount.
With the retail apocalypse in full-swing, “retailers are looking for opportunities to automate processes and stop paying people,” said Richard A. Feinberg, a professor of consumer sciences and retailing at Purdue University, who forecasts automation could save retailers such as Walmart.
He also noted, “it changes the nature of the jobs; it may not mean fewer jobs, it may mean they can retrain the people to do things that are more useful for them, business wise,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it reduces headcount, but I don’t know.”
More importantly, a Walmart spokesperson said “the maintenance team is actually quite ‘excited’ to work with new technology.” What they don’t know is that their jobs will be obsolete in a few years after the 50 state rollout commences. All fun in games today until someone gets a pink slip.
As Fox News reports, Walmart is not the only company testing this technology..
According to Phil Duffy, VP of Innovation & Marketing for Brain Corporation, the company is currently working with approximately 50 malls and big box retailers across the U.S.
“We are also in airports, educational campuses, corporate campuses and industrial sites. In addition, we will be launching in Japan, through our partner, SoftBank Robotics, by summer 2018,” Duffy said.
In a preview of what’s to come, Brain Corp., funded by DARPA is leading the charge through Walmart, America’s largest employer to automate low skill jobs. The middle class or what is left of them have many dark and difficult days ahead, as we expect this trend to gain momentum in the coming years.