Big Box Stores Start Using Drones For Spills, Cleanups & More

There are countless types of drones today.  From small hobby drones to massive military drones, they come in all shapes and sizes.  But drones aren’t just limited to UAVs, Unmanned “Arial” Vehicles.  There are submersible drones that can navigate underwater like the RangerBot traversing the Great Barrier Reef or drones that drive across surfaces like NASA’s Mars Rover.  A drone is any type of vehicle that can navigate without an onboard pilot either remotely or autonomously.  Now if you venture into a Walmart, Stop & Shop, Giant, or Martin’s store there is a good chance that you may encounter a drone roaming the aisles.

These chains are just a few of the latest retailers to embrace drones to aid in their store maintenance operations.  Walmart has ordered over 300 floor cleaning robots from San Diego based company Brain Corporation while Ahold Delhaize USA is introducing the drones named “Marty” to 500 of their grocery stores like Stop & Shop.  If you enter a Stop & Shop or Giant you may see by the front door a red square taped off on the floor as Marty’s parking/charging space.  By this spot and on Marty (a 6″ gliding tower with friendly googly eyes) there is a sign that reads, “This store is monitored by Marty for your safety.  Marty is an autonomous robot that uses image capturing technology to report spills, debris and other potential hazards to store employees to improve your shopping experience.”

The drones slowly cruise at 2mph through the aisles of the stores using sensors to pick up anything on the floor that doesn’t belong there.  For small spills, the drone will simply clean up the mess on it’s own.  For larger messes the drone will begin to clean up while notifying an employee to come and help as well.  They are basically giant Rumba vacuums, but a bit more advanced.  A Rumba will happily bounce into an obstacle before changing course.  These new floor cleaning drones don’t just have sensors to detect ground debris.  They also have sensors to stop them from crashing into aisles, displays, or humans jumping into their path.

Employing more than 1.5 million individuals, Walmart is the single largest employer in the United States.  The company has been adopting more and more technologies to better shopping experiences recently like self checkout lanes and their pickup tower.  Rather than taking jobs away from people, these new advancements like Brain Corporation’s Auto-C with BrainOS technology floor cleaning drone are helping existing employees.  Yes the robot is autonomous, but it still needs to be monitored by a human.  But, most importantly, Walmart is using these technologies so that their employees are freer to attend to more critical operations.  A job like floor cleaning, that must be done daily, could take a janitor around 3 hours a day in an average size store to complete.  The drone will take about the same amount of time to complete the job, but now that employee is able to focus on other tasks.

With a single press of a button, a Walmart employ can send the Auto-C off to clean a programmed area.  Walmart’s vice president of central operations, John Crecelius said, “BrainOS is a powerful tool in helping our associates complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks within role and spend more time serving customers.”  While Frederic McCoy, senior vice president at Jabil Retail, the suppliers of Marty said, “We are excited to be part of this industry-leading rollout of fully autonomous robots that collect safety data while traversing retail stores.  Real-time hazard alerts empower stores to resolve incidents like spills, as well as improve operations.”

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