Want to do your shopping in a sci-fi movie? Rocket on over to the Food Lion grocery store in LaFollette, Tennessee, where googly-eyed staff robot Marty can be seen rolling around the aisles.
Marty looks like a slim gray capital letter “I” come to life, with the addition of blue lights, a wheeled black base, and those winning googly eyes, which make him look more like a friendly cartoon and less like a terrifying Terminator. He even sports a nametag, just like the store’s other employees.
Performing your job robotically isn’t always a good idea, but for Marty, it’s the only way he knows how to work.
“He has been a great addition to the team,” a Food Lion representative told The Daily Meal.
Marty rolls around the market performing what are called “safety sweeps,” and alerts the human employees if he spots any slip-and-fall hazards. Food Lion says he makes his rounds 12 times a day, seven days a week.
He’s not just a spill-spotter. Marty also scans product information to check that it’s accurate, and notifies staff of any out-of-stock items.
“By having Marty perform the sweeps of the store and verify pricing information, our associates can spend more time interacting with customers and providing them the services they expect from Food Lion,” the company representative said.
Marty was developed by Badger Technologies in Lexington, Kentucky, where he goes by the clunkier name of “in-store data gathering autonomous robot.”
Badger Technologies did not immediately respond to a request for information about how many robots are currently employed at U.S. grocery stores. But we know the Tennessee Marty is not alone – as early as October, another Marty (or perhaps the same one?) was cruising the aisles of Giant Food Store in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania.
“Many people are ambivalent to him and just walk right by,” Patrick Maturo, manager of store optimization for Ahold USA, told PennLive.com in a 2017 video. “And then there’s the large majority of people who are very excited to see a robot in the store. They get very excited about it and they tend to take pictures of it, video of it, and selfies with the robot. It’s very cool.”
But will a myriad of Martys replace human workers? Not according to Matthew Harakal, manager of media and communications for Food Lion.
“Marty is collecting information to help us do a more efficient job and create a better shopping experience for our customers,” but can’t take the place of human workers, Harakal told Vice’s Munchies food website. “Additionally, associates still complete safety checks in areas Marty can’t get to.”
It's nice to see a robot helping with spills and product information, but if only it could also tell you when you're wasting money!