Stop & Shoppers, Meet Marty

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Danger, Will Robinson, Danger! Cleanup in aisle five! A new visitor has some feeling like they’re in an episode of “Lost in Space” while shopping for groceries at Stop & Shop. But don’t fret—it’s just Marty!

At the beginning of the year, Retail Business Services and Badger Technologies announced that they would be deploying 500 robots to GIANT/MARTIN’S and Stop & Shop supermarkets around the country. A few weeks ago, the robot—named Marty—landed in Arverne by the Sea, much to the delight, and fright, of shoppers. The more than six-foot-tall, grey, mobile robot with giant googly eyes and a smile with a label that explains his purpose, is now scanning the aisles at Stop & Shop.

What does Marty do? According to Stephanie Shuman, External Communications Manager for Stop & Shop, “Marty is used to identify hazards, such as liquid, powder and bulk food item spills so that associates can take corrective action. Marty scans the stores about 12 times per day, seven days per week. It’s also not just ‘spills’ that he identifies—it’s potential hazards, which is much more broad. This could include items like flat paper on the floor, tissue paper, twist ties, or produce items that could potentially cause a customer to slip.”

Curious seven-year-old Christian Williams recently tried to interview his new shopping buddy, Marty, for his Little Kids News YouTube channel, only to find that the robot isn’t very interactive and doesn’t have too much to say other than its constant beeping as it scans aisles. But customers are hearing a lot more noise in Stop & Shop. Shuman explained that when Marty detects a spill, it says aloud, "Caution, hazard detected,” in both English and Spanish to alert shoppers. An announcement is then made over the store’s PA system to let store associates know that a hazard has been detected and needs to be resolved. This has resulted in a lot more announcements for “Cleanup in aisle…”

According to some shoppers, the announcements seem to be overkill. “I was there Friday and saw Marty. I was pretty surprised to see him,” Debbie Firestone said. “In the 10 minutes I was in the store, I heard, 'Cleanup is needed on aisle 13, cleanup is needed on aisle 11, cleanup is needed on aisle 10,' over and over on the loudspeaker around five times in the 10 minutes I was there. I went to customer service for something and I said to the worker, ‘this is driving me crazy, I can’t even imagine how badly you want to kill this robot.’  She laughed and said yeah, but she doesn’t even hear it anymore.” Others say its sheer size has been an inconvenience. “That robot was definitely in my way during one shopping trip! Everywhere I went, there it was! I kept having to move out of its way. At one point I asked it to stop following me,’ Debora Aponte said.

According to Shuman, Marty is actually intended to be beneficial to both staff and customers.  “Associates who previously conducted inspections around the store for spills and hazards now have the time back to focus on other things. They have much more time to focus on their customers, which was a key objective here,” she said.

However, according to some, Marty could still use a tune-up. “My 10-year-old daughter loves it. Only issue, she was still in slightly wet clothing from surf camp and the silly robot thought she was a spill. The floor manager had to come over a reset the robot twice,” Lauren Monte said. Monte’s daughter wasn’t the only “hazard.” According to another shopper, “The one in Arverne came up to me, stopped for a second then said hazard detected. Then the PA announcement came. ‘Clean up needed in aisle whatever the number.’  I looked at it and said, ‘you need some help, your programmer clearly did not do a good job.’”

While Marty is providing some laughs, others say it has them leery. Some are calling it “creepy” and many have been startled by it. “It was a perfect Candid Camera or what would you do moment. It scared the s***  out of me. Marty came onto me suddenly and unexpectedly at the Arverne Stop & Shop. It was quite a moment. Another customer who witnessed my reaction began laughing hysterically at me,”a customer named Emily said. Others think Marty may actually have them on candid camera. “How do we truly know what its real purpose is, as no one bothered to introduce this gadget to the customers. For all I know it’s scanning me to see if I have stolen something or have a weapon,” one customer said. Another added, “Personally, I don't trust them and I think it has way too many sensors to just do what they say it does.”

Others have expressed concerns over what the futuristic robot could mean for the future. “Another job lost to a robot,” suggested one local. Others expanded upon this. “I believe this is a plan to gain acceptance and familiarity with similar robots that will have added capabilities and eventually replace some paid workers. This is partly because of the minimum wage increases as well as things like paid family medical leave, health insurance and other costs associated with employing real people,” a customer named Dan said.

However, some say they wish it did have other capabilities beyond reporting spills, otherwise calling it a “waste of money.” Magali Ortiz is among those who believes Marty could be more productive. “He’s adorable, but he’s pretty useless. Perhaps if he vacuums up the one grape instead of announcing 'clean-up needed in aisle two'  for a human to run to, it would make more sense,” she said.

Some may not have met Marty yet. The robot has not been spotted at Rockaway Park’s Stop & Shop. However, besides ABTS, he has been spotted nearby at the store on Burnside Avenue in Inwood and in some locations near Ozone Park and Howard Beach. According to Shuman, the locations were chosen for a reason. "Marty was put in stores that could support it from a store layout standpoint, ensuring there’s enough space for Marty to move about,” she said. However, with the robot still making its debut, there’s potential that Marty could be more of a regular when shopping at supermarkets. So while you’re shopping, watch out, Marty is coming through.

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