Machines were supposed to take over tasks too dangerous for humans. Now humans are the danger, and robots might be the solution.
Inside a Schnucks grocery store in St. Louis, Missouri, the toilet paper and baking ingredients are mostly cleared out. A rolling robot turns a corner and heads down an aisle stocked with salsa and taco shells. It comes up against a masked customer wearing shorts and sneakers; he’s pushing a shopping cart carrying bread.
The robot looks something like a tower speaker on top of an autonomous home vacuum cleaner—tall and thin, with orb-like screen eyes halfway up that shift left and right. A red sign on its long head makes the introductions. “Hi, I’m Tally! I check shelf inventory!” A moment of uncertainty ensues. Tally freezes, sensing the human, and the customer pauses, seeming unsure of what to do next. Should he maneuver around the robot? Or wait for it to move along on its own? After a few seconds, the customer chooses to divert, and heads down another aisle.