Walmart is unleashing their creepy robots throughout 350 stores this year – most of which will roam the aisles and look for items that are either out of stock or out of place, after which a human will be alerted to remedy the issue, according to Fast Company.
Another robot, the ‘Auto-C’ self-driving floor scrubber, will navigate the store to as it laughs in binary at the human job it just took.
“What we think is very valuable to us is we have a life-sized laboratory where hopefully millions of people will be seeing our robot,” said Sarjourn Skaff – CTO and cofounder of Bossa Nova, which makes the company’s new shelf scanners. “It’s a very valuable lab for researchers to experiment with human-robot interaction concepts. The scale allows you to get to the truth faster.”
The rest of the article details how Skaff and team experimented with various ideas in order to make robot-human interactions more smooth – such as trying out ‘turn signals’ and brake lights. They found that trying to replicate traffic signals and other road-related customs were a total dud.
“We expected the turn signals to just work,” said Skaff. “It was a big surprise that actually the answer is no. People had a hard time transcribing an experience from the road to one that’s indoors.”
However, it was an apt comparison to make in another way. The last time that humans had to readjust to having machines in their space was when the automobile infiltrated the roads at the turn of the century. And back when cars were first coexisting with humans, their designers hadn’t yet found a common interaction language. There were no turn signals or even brake lights. It’s a remarkable echo of what’s happening now with robots being introduced in public spaces.
Dan Albert, a car historian and author of the new book Are We There Yet?, points out that well into the 1950s, people still put their hands out the window to signal which direction they planned to turn. Other cars were equipped with a little flag called a “trafficator” that popped out from the side of the vehicle to indicate left or right. Brake lights weren’t always what we’re familiar with today, either; even the use of red, yellow, and green in traffic lights wasn’t a foregone conclusion. “All those things are very random,” Albert says. “Every engineer thinks, I’ll do it this way.”
Eventually, Bossa Nova settled on a ‘rotating ring of light’ – which Skaff says the company is still testing as an indication of direction.