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back to article El Reg encounters mObi: R2-D2 for retailers

Say hello to mObi, a metre-tall retail-friendly robot that, if developer Bossa Nova Robotics has its way, will be hovering up and down supermarket aisles the world over, checking stock, guiding disoriented punters to the baked beans, and reducing even further the number of employment opportunities open to surly Gen Y-ers. Bossa …

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Anonymous Coward

Is it hoodie proof?

So it can keep itself upright can it?

That'll just be a challenge to the hoodie wearing yoof in my local supermarket.

Or, it'll be tagged with graffiti, or up on blocks with the wheel nicked.

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Re: Is it hoodie proof?

Forget that - I wonder if it can deal with:

* The hassles mums trying to shop with a hoard of whining kids.

* The shoppers who merrily abandon their trollies in the middle of the aisles in everyones way whilst they wander off to select the items they want from the other end of the row.

* The cages of new stock left by staff in the busiest of the aisles just to get in everyones way.

* The business type who just popped in for a few things, but hasn't the time to wrench the mobile away from his ear and so is trying to pick things off the shelf with the same hand that's holding their overflowing basket.

If it can please let me know the secret, 'cos I'm damn sure I can't deal with them most days.

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Re: Is it hoodie proof?

Lasers!

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Re: Is it hoodie proof?

Why do you assume it'll only be hoodies trying to push it over? Surely that the first thing you'd try, given an opportunity when no-ones looking...

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Terminator

Re: Is it hoodie proof?

If it's going to have "Kinect’s gesture recognition" to track "finger movements", I'll be flicking it the Vs at the earliest opportunity. Maybe they can programme it to scurry away in terror if you roar at it?

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Anonymous Coward

Now all we need

is to change those scanning cameras for laser beams and make it 15ft tall.

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g e
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Go

Re: Now all we need

150ft tall with missile launchers and gauss rifles a la Mechwarrior (I wish they'd make a new one...)

Where's your ambition sigh

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Re: Now all we need

You're behind the times. I beta tested the new Mechwarrior months ago: http://mwomercs.com

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Re: Now all we need

No no, no! Just add a pair of arms, and name it 'Jeeves'. (And hurry, elst my tea'll get cold!)

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Mushroom

cunning plan

mObi glides between two mirrors, sees an infinite number of baked beans and explodes.

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Every Little Helps

If this thing's going to have any chance of replacing the staff in my local Tesco's, they're going to have be sold in pairs and programmed to spend 90% of their time locked in a secure communication protocol with each other, heavily firewalled to prevent any disruption to their comms, such as a hostile "excuse me, can you tell me where the beans are?" attack

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Coat

Can you show me where the baked beans are?

By your command!

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Joke

Re: Can you show me where the baked beans are?

All your beans are belong to us

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Holmes

Re: Can you show me where the baked beans are?

That was going so well, until you failed to singularise the product.

(IOW, it should be "all your bean are belong to us")

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Alien

Re: Can you show me where the baked beans are?

Many beans, one can ;)

Hmm, that sounded more like Yoda

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Surely a decent POS system should alert when stock on shelf gets low- "60 boxes of cornflakes sold in last half hour- Send ZittoTron to check volume on shelf"

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You would have thought so, but my local Tescos are useless, no stock of what people want on the selves (always empty almost all the time) and never putting less of what people don't want on the selves to make room for the stuff that flies off.

I assume the stock management software tells them what is going on and the staff actively ignore it. Been like it for years. Or perhaps they just eyeball everything.

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Stock control? You're having a laugh.

I've searched the aisle for things, and not found them.

So I go and ask, "do you have....?" Dunno, 'ave ye tried bakery?

So off to customer services, "Can your computer tell me if you even have xyz in stock? So I'm not wasting my time looking?"

"No, it can't do that."

WTF! really!?!

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Trollface

Sex Panther

" (always empty almost all the time) "

60% of the time, it works every time.

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Linux

Re: Sex Panther

I spent a week stacking shelves at a Tesco. They just get deliveries in and put stuff on shelves. Whatever comes into stock goes on the shelves. There is certainly no intelligence behind stocking the shelves.

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Terminator

Why does it need to check stock? Surely all decent stores that might be using these things already have a pretty good logistics system in place to know exactly how much stock they've got!

Unless they're going to act as Security Guards as well...

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Flame

act as Security Guards as well...

Add a taser and it *IS* a Dalek

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Anonymous Coward

You would have thought

You'd have thought they would have a refined to perfection logistics system by now. I cant speak for the stores but the warehouse I work in is held together with chewing gum and string the only nod to modernism is replacing the old green screen terminals with PC's running terminal emulation.

Nothing in the place is ever repaired if you can make do without and there is no post install support for anything that runs on electric so most of it just dies and get chucked in the corner, which is where these would end up despite being rather impressive.

These are the sort of company's who think a 5 year old lithium-ion cell that has been in 24 hour use is still going to be able to run a mobile terminal and not go from full to flat in an hour.

Retail is where technology goes to die.

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Re: act as Security Guards as well...

You just need a little docking port on top to plug an octopus in, and train the octopus how to operate the laser and sink plunger.

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Go

I don't care what it does.

I want one.

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Joke

These are not the beans you're looking for...

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"These are not the beans you're looking for..."

says mObi Wan Kenobi

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Devil

Why the fiddly, and processor intensive, ball and gyros to stay upright? Surely the wheel is now perfected technology - and out of patent... Otherwise they should have used a pogo-stick, or an air-cushion and had it hover properly...

I suppose it's too much to ask for that they use SpaceX's latest technology, the Grasshopper rocket. It would be fun to have a mini rocket bouncing round your supermarket, and it could get to those empty shelves super-quick. But people always laugh at me when I suggest indoor rocketry as the solution to any problem. I can't imagine why...

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Happy

Indoor rocketry

I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

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> Surely the wheel is now perfected technology - and out of patent...

Only until Apple's lawyers notice it has rounded corners.

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Ru
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Terminator

Why the fiddly, and processor intensive, ball and gyros to stay upright?

Small footprint means it gets in the way less and can navigate between obstacles more easily. Also, I rather suspect that it'll be easier to keep upright (or even self-right) than a very tall robot on a small wheeled base.

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Joke

Wonky wheel?

Based on the standard performance of their trolleys, can we also assume that it will always tend to steer somewhat to the left when trying to move forwards?

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Boffin

"I rather suspect that it'll be easier to keep upright (or even self-right) than a very tall robot on a small wheeled base."

Actually it's best to have the center of gravity as high as possible for balancing as it makes it easier to move the support under center and the added length means the moment of inertia is working in favor of not tipping. You can demonstrate this yourself by trying to balance different length sticks on your finger. A short pencil is particularly hard to balance but a long broomstick is considerably easier. Likewise, if you have a single stick with a weight that can be moved from top to bottom you can notice that it does get easier as the weight is moved up the stick.

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I hope they will test these for how they interact with guide dogs before they start putting them in all the supermarkets.

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Thumb Up

a victim is a victim.

Like an overweight 3 year old.

Can you imagine the kids chasing the robot through the shelves? Will it lead them into a back room and gun them down? We can only hope.

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Happy

Re: a victim is a victim.

Can you imagine the kids chasing the robot through the shelves? Will it lead them into a back room and gun them down? We can only hope.

Given that this is a stock control robot, I should imagine it will only use that mode when the shop is low on meat pies.

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Scene in the aisles of the future Tesco supermarket after a long day's work

Tired consumer. Approached by hovering robot.

Hovering robot: "Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir?"

Tired consumer: "No thanks"

Hovering robot, insisting: "Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir?"

Tired consumer, very annoyed: "I SAID NO!"

Hovering robot, continuing nevertheless: "Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir?"

Tired consumer, at wits' end: "NOOOOOOOOO!!!"

Hovering robot, completely ignoring consumer: "Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir? Do you need any help, Sir?"

Tired consumer, surrenders to the inevitable: "OK! You win! I need help. Tell me what to do, I'll buy whatever you say."

Hovering robot, smugly: "That's better, Sir! Follow me now..."

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Go

Re: Scene in the aisles of the future Tesco supermarket after a long day's work

All that's missing is a decal of a paperclip on the robot...

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Alert

Shape wrong

Really should be taller and more like a skinny Dalek in shape, but with the flat top.

It could then have a manipulator to re-orientate boxes to see what they are.

What could go wrong?

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A few ramblings..

1) To make if hoody proof (i.e. stop if getting walked off with) could it discharge it's batteries through the chassis?

2) IP55 rated maybe? no small kids sticking fingers where they shouldn't or guide dogs taking a piss...

3) if that plate on the top can hold 10kg, why not add a hand basket so it could carry your shopping for you?!

4) teams of them bring your Tesco on-line order to your home? assuming no stairs of course...

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Ru
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Re: A few ramblings..

1) To make if hoody proof (i.e. stop if getting walked off with) could it discharge it's batteries through the chassis?

Just sounding a nasty alarm when it has been lifted up would be enough. Any store large enough to be able to afford some of these things will also have security staff on the door, too.

2) IP55 rated maybe? no small kids sticking fingers where they shouldn't or guide dogs taking a piss...

How often do you see guide dogs urinating in supermarkets? They're substantially better trained and better behaved than many of the children you'll find there.

I suspect basic shell sealing will be done as a matter of course, if only to keep maintenance down

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A few ramblings..

4) teams of them bring your Tesco on-line order to your home? assuming no stairs of course...

To a soundtrack of Dukas "Sorcerer's Apprentice" - the same order hundreds of times over.

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The robot runs on a single, six-inch ball;

...a larger version of the rubber-covered spheres computer mice used to slide around on.

So is someone going to need to turn it upside down, take out the ball, and remove the fluff with a toothpick every couple of weeks?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The robot runs on a single, six-inch ball;

"[...] and remove the fluff with a toothpick every couple of weeks?"

The real problem with the old mouse balls was that they acquired a felt pad made up of hair, dust, and sticky deposits. This made the ball only rotate in the direction of the accretion. In any other direction the ball stopped turning.

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Anonymous Coward

Quality control

If they could spot the damaged tins, mouldy fruit, and out of date stock - now that would be useful.

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Anonymous Coward

RFID

If the stock ever gets RFID tags then the robot just has to cruise the aisles interrogating the tags for type and quantity. However - unless the local shoplifters are prolific - that information should all be available from the POS totals.

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Re: RFID

If everything had RFID tags then there'd be no need at all for a mobile robot. The 'readers' are built right in the racks. That's how many large warehouses do it now, including Wal-Mart in the backroom but not on the shelves as the tags are too expensive for the manufacturers to put on every item. The tags are relegated to whole pallets or boxes with many small products inside, mostly.

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Terminator

This is a BOFH story waiting to happen

I know the BOFH has been involved in robot challenges before, but mostly on his own turf. What are the possibilities for a robot ambush (and counter-insurgency) campaign at the local supermarket... Or perhaps a few amendments to the stock management and delivery system.

Presumably with the right access to the control system, there's no reason why these little chaps should consider themselves limited to the supermarket aisles. I'm mean, what if a mischievous rascal felt inclined to 'persuade' the robot to follow customers home. I wonder what the effective range is...

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