Robots & Shopping Carts

Top left: illustration on Robot vs Grocery Store Bag; on right: “Shopping Johnny” robot sculpture from Jones Robo-Works; lower left: illustration from; on right “Small Robot at the Supermarket” T-shirt


Yesterday’s post about Bill Barminski’s cardboard spray paint cans led me to discover this video below by Walter Robot. (“Walter Robot is the production studio created by artist Bill Barminski and director Christopher Louie. They work in art, animation and film.”)

What’s the idea behind robots pushing shopping carts? A naive, Jetsonsesque view of the future in which robots are anthropomorphic and do all the work we used to do?

The reality is turning out to be different. Walter Robot, above, is alienated and hates shopping. Doesn’t even bother with a shopping cart.

In the video below, although the robot “Robovie” carries a shopping basket and follows a woman around the produce section, it is the woman who appears to be doing most of the work. (and Robovie is something of a chatterbox…)

Maybe the robots we get are the robots we deserve, but any retail automation you are apt to be experiencing is neither anthropomorphic nor labor-saving. At least not from the consumer’s point of view.

Customers can also absorb some of a company’s costs by performing tasks that the company formerly provided. An early example of this was the self-service gas station, followed more recently by self checkout kiosks in grocery stores. This can have less of a negative customer satisfaction impact because some customers actually prefer to help themselves.

Wikipedia’s entry on B2C (business to customer) Cost Externalizing

While “helping yourself” may sound like a good thing when you’re being offered a dish of your grandmother’s cookies, in a retail environment the benefits are more debatable. “Service” is work. “Self-service” simply means you do the work.

As with packaging and with self-service shopping, in general —(starting with Clarence Saunders’ Piggly Wiggly and Keedoozle)— the retail robots are not really there to serve you, but to save the company money. Moreover, they are not intended to alleviate your work, but to force you to do even more work. Unpaid work. See also: Shadow Work

(A homeless robot and more, after the fold…)

 “Carlos was a college kinetic sculpture project. I was interested in the concept of automating aspects of society that were considered not so ‘glamorous’ … For example, homeless people live in extremely dangerous environments. Shouldn’t there be automated equipment used by this strata of society?”

Via: OhGizmo

Another desolate robot, confined to a shopping cart:

One more shopping robot, this one from China…

See also: Robots and Packaging

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