Where do you want to fly?
With electronic beeps and flashing blue lights, Marty patrolled the Martin’s Food Store off Dual Highway Friday, looking for spills and other hazards on the floor.
The robot, which has saucer-sized “eyes” at the top, started work this week.
“He scans the store for any spills. It could be liquid, it could be powder. And then he relays a message to our intercom system,” Store Manager Kerry Young said. “It’s a safety thing, to ensure that our floors are kept clear for the customers as well as the associates.”
In addition to calling for cleanup, Marty stops at the spill. His flashing lights turn from blue to yellow, to warn customers of the hazard.
After a store employee has cleaned up the mess, the person pushes Marty’s reset button, and the robot resumes his patrol.
The store employs more than 100 people. With Marty around, they will have more time to focus on customers rather than puddles, Young said.
Giant Food Stores, which operates 172 Giant and Martin’s groceries, is rolling out Martys in waves over the coming months. If all goes as planned, all of the stores will be using Marty by mid-year, the company said in a news release.
During the past year, Giant has piloted Marty and the in-store robotic program in two stores — one at at Harrisburg, Pa., and one at Carlisle, Pa.
“Bringing robotics and A.I. (artificial intelligence) from a research lab to the sales floor has been a very exciting journey, and we were thrilled by the customer response in our pilot stores,” Nicholas Bertram, president of Giant Food Stores, said in a news release. “Our associates have worked hard to bring this innovation to life with amazing partners.”
Young, 57, said he’s seen a lot of technological advances in his four decades with the company. He got his start unloading trucks.
“When I started, we still priced everything (instead of each item having a universal product code), and we had key-in registers,” he said.
Now, Marty patrols the store unassisted. He’s on duty from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. After work, he recharges at a docking station in the store.
“He will take breaks during the day and get a little charge, if need be,” Young said.
At one point Friday morning, a charged-up Marty was patrolling the produce section and drawing a few looks from customers.
“They love him,” Young said. “A lot of them are taking pictures or taking selfies with him. … A lot of them are amazed.”
Emma Chan of Hagerstown said she was amazed when she first saw Marty on another grocery trip a few days ago.
“I nearly ran into him,” she said.
At first, she thought Marty was a robotic vacuum. She learned what he really does on Friday.
“It’s a good thing, I think, to avoid people falling,” she said.
Marty also comes in handy when the weather outside could lead to hazards inside.
“On a day like today, when we do have the snowfall, people will walk in, they’ll have snow and water on their boots,” Young said Friday. “So we’ve already had several announcements from Marty this morning letting us know that people had tracked water on the floor, so that we were able to get it cleaned up. He’s doing a good job.”