Abundance and variety are great qualities in a store—unless you’re looking for something specific. And after a fruitless search through countless aisles, it’s not unusual to give in and ask for help, only to hear: “Oh I think we have some of those in aisle 12, or maybe we just used to sell those. I forget.”
A new robot from Simbe Robotics is set to change that. Instead of relying on mere humans to remember where every item in a store is, and how many are left in stock, Simbe’s new robot, Tally, will keep track of every package of Double-Stuf Oreos, every bag of Ruffles crinkle-cut potato chips, and every DiGiorno frozen pizza.
Tally, which looks like a cross between a vacuum and a fan, rolls autonomously down each aisle in a grocery store—or warehouse—mapping products and checking to see which are out of stock. As most large store chains keep data on where each item should be shelved, Tally can also see if items have been put in the wrong place or priced incorrectly, and alert humans to the problem, CNN points out.
Tally can run during work hours, according to Engadget, meaning human employees won’t have to waste time during the day checking on stock. That means they can spend more time talking to customers, and perhaps opening up more than two checkout lines. Tally will presumably also never complain that it wasn’t even supposed to be there today.
Simbe Robotics told MIT Technology Review that the company is testing out its robot in the US, and one large (unnamed) retail chain is already trying out Tally. The company has not revealed how much Tally will cost, but CEO Brad Bogolea told MIT that the robot would be sold through a subscription model.
Bogolea told both CNN and MIT that Tally is intended to take a mundane burden away from human workers, rather than replace them. But if Tally were to team up with other robots—like the Roomba for cleaning stores, Amazon’s Kiva robots for stocking, and the OSHbot for showing customers where things are—there really won’t be much left for humans to do. Not everyone can be a Walmart greeter.