The human workers whose jobs restocking the shelves at Walmart were nearly rendered obsolete by a sophisticated fleet of robots dealt a surprising retaliatory blow to the robots on Monday by, somehow, rendering them obsolete first.
After a five year-long partnership, Walmart announced that it had terminated its agreement with robotics company Bossa Nova Robotics Inc., the venture capital-backed outfit that had helped deploy smart inventory-scanning tech. at about 500 of the retail giant’s stores across the U.S. in the name of increasing productivity and slashing labor costs. But in an unexpected twist, Walmart’s quest for the bleeding edge of efficiency led store executives to the conclusion that the human workers were doing their jobs at more or less the same speed as the robot ones all along—with the additional pitfall of the 6-foot tall robots maybe creeping out some of the customers.
In a statement, an unnamed Walmart spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that the retailer has not completely forgone future plans for an automated workforce, and will “continue testing new technologies and investing in our own processes and apps to best understand and track our inventory and help move products to our shelves as quickly as we can.”
Although plans for inventory robots, which can help stores like Walmart create a more accurate picture of which products it has in stock for online customers, have been scrapped for now, Walmart still plans to utilize robots in-store in other ways, including for checkout and cleaning purposes.
The termination of the contract marks an ironically devastating blow to Bossa Nova, with the company reportedly being forced to lay off roughly 50% of its human workforce as a result of Walmart’s decision. But to those decommissioned robot workers, left behind by the relentless churn of optimization and industry, we say: Learn to code.