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商业 - 科技

沃尔玛测试超市机器人,多少库管将失业?

Jonathan Vanian 2018年04月02日

为了与在线零售巨头亚马逊抗衡,包括沃尔玛在内的一众大型零售商都在加紧采用新技术。

现在在50家沃尔玛超市的美国门店里,你已经可以看到“机器人售货员”的身影了。它们长得像大号的扫地机器人,身上背着一座瘦高的传感器塔,井井有条地在门店的过道里巡逻,看看货架上的卫生纸还够不够,洗衣粉上的价签是不是贴错了。

沃尔玛正在测试的这些机器人是由博萨诺瓦机器人公司(Bossa Nova Robotics)设计制造的。测试的目的也很明显:如果机器人也能执行库存管理工作,何必再给工人发工资呢?为了与在线零售巨头亚马逊抗衡,包括沃尔玛在内的一众大型零售商都在加紧采用新技术。而与此同时,亚马逊也在一些仓库里使用了机器人等先进技术。

塔吉特百货和劳氏公司也已经在实体店内测试用机器人执行扫描货架等简单任务。其中,塔吉特使用的是初创公司Simbe Robotics的机器人服务。

在上周《麻省理工科技评论》于旧金山举办的EmTech数字峰会上,博萨诺瓦机器人公司的首席商务官马丁·希契介绍道,沃尔玛的机器人每天要在货架过道里检查三次,看看店内的15万多件商品是不是都摆在正确的位置上。机器人会对卫生纸是否缺货、商品是否贴错了价签这种问题做记录,然后一名真人员工会根据机器人的记录补货或重贴价签——毕竟以这些机器人目前的物理设计,它们还干不了这些后续工作。

在沃尔玛的测试过程中,人们对机器人的态度也在发生变化。比如两年前博萨诺瓦公司刚在宾西法尼亚州的一家郊区沃尔玛门店投放机器人时,人们都对它们非常好奇,经常花很长时间盯着它们,而现在大家已经完全忽略了它们的存在。

“人们已经允许了它们做它们该做的事。”希契表示。

当被问到不同类型的人对机器人有什么反应时,希契表示,儿童特别是小学生往往“对机器人非常尊重”。而成年人有时则跟在机器人后头问“你好吗”或其他一些蠢问题,当然也有人完全无视它们的存在。

青少年的“淘气”本性,则给机器人带来了不小的挑战。

希契表示:“有时它们会遭到购物袋的殴打,有时会被故意踢上一脚。”

希契表示,博萨诺瓦公司已经习惯了青少年的恶作剧,公司在下一步的设计中也将把这个因素考虑在内。可以想象,下一代的超市机器人必须具备抵御高中生向它们丢番茄酱的能力。

博萨诺瓦公司在设计上的另一项改进是使机器看起来对人类更加“友好”。他们在机器人小小的身体上装了一个小显示屏和一圈发光条,机器人的电脑主机就安装在显示屏后面,这样人们的注意力就不容易集中在机器人身上附着的传感器塔上了。

希契表示,公司曾请顾客描述对机器人的看法。“结果没有人意识到它有两米高。”因为大家的注意力都集中在它矮矮的身材上(有点像《星战》里的圆柱型机器人R2-D2),而没有注意到它身上固定的传感器塔。而实际上,这个机器人的身高足有6.5英尺,这座传感器塔占了其中的大部分,颇有点小马拉大车的感觉。

沃尔玛并未披露机器人是否真的节省了公司的开支,然而鉴于沃尔玛正在越来越多的门店测试机器人,可见它对花钱购买这家创业公司的机器人还是挺满意的。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎 

Inside 50 of Walmart’s U.S. stores, robots resembling vacuum cleaners affixed with small, sleek towers, patrol the aisles, checking whether the shelves are stocked with enough toilet paper and that laundry detergent has the correct price tag.

Walmart is testing the robots, built by Bossa Nova Robotics, to see if they can monitor store inventory more cheaply than human workers. The test reflects the increasing adoption of technology by big retailers as they try to keep up with online retail giant Amazon , which uses robots in some of its warehouses in addition to other cutting-edge technology.

Target and Lowe’s are already testing robots in physical stores for handling mundane jobs like scanning shelves. Target, for example is using the robotic services of the startup Simbe Robotics to scan aisles.

Every day, one of Walmart’s robots rolls down every aisle three times to check that over 150,000 products are where they should be on store shelves, Martin Hitch, chief business officer for Bossa Nova Robotics, said Monday at the MIT Technology Review’sEmTech Digital conference in San Francisco. The robot will keep a record whether there isn’t enough toilet paper, or if an item doesn’t have the right price tag. From there, a human store clerk will either re-stock the aisle or put the right price tag on the product, because the robots are not physically capable of doing so.

Among the findings from Walmart’s test is that people’s perceptions change the longer they see the robots in action. For example, two years ago when Bossa Nova first installed a robot at a Walmart store in rural Pennsylvania, local residents were very curious about the machines and spent time gawking at them, Hitch said, but they now completely ignore them.

“It’s allowed to do its job,” Hitch said.

When asked how different types of people react to the robots, Hitch said that children, particularly school children, tend to be “very respectful of the robot.” Adults, on the other hand, sometimes either goof around with the robots by asking how they are doing or other silly questions, or ignore them.

Teenagers, however, pose a challenge for Bossa Nova’s Walmart robots because of their “mischievous” nature, Hitch said.

“We’ve been hit with shopping bags,” Hitch said about the robots. “We’ve been deliberately kicked.”

Hitch said that Bossa Nova has gotten used to teenagers playing pranks on robots, and that the company has taken that into account in its robot designs. Presumably, these robots must be built in a way that they can withstand having cans of tomato soup thrown at them by high schoolers.

Another thing Bossa Nova did was to design the robots to look more “friendly” to humans by installing a small display screen and lighting on its small body. The screen and lighting, which is also where the robot’s main computer resides, helps distract people from the larger mini-tower affixed to the robot, on which is affixed sensors that scan items on the shelf.

Hitch said that when the company asked customers to describe the robot, “nobody realized it was two meters tall” because they focused on the smaller robot body (resembling the Star Wars cylindrical robot R2-D2) and not its tower, which comprises the bulk of the robot’s height of around 6.5 feet.

Walmart hasn’t revealed if it’s saving money by using Bossa Nova’s robots, but considering it’s testing them out in more stores, the retail company appears to be pleased its spending money on the startup.

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