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. …

COMMENTS

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      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.

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: Is it hoodie proof?

        Lasers!

    2. monkeyfish

      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...

      1. Lamont Cranston
        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?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now all we need

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

    1. g e
      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

      1. Irongut

        Re: Now all we need

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

    2. Captain DaFt

      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!)

  3. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Mushroom

    cunning plan

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

  4. NightFox

    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

  5. Graham Marsden
    Coat

    Can you show me where the baked beans are?

    By your command!

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Joke

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

      All your beans are belong to us

      1. Steve Foster
        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")

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Alien

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

          Many beans, one can ;)

          Hmm, that sounded more like Yoda

  6. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    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"

    1. Ragarath

      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.

      1. lawl
        Trollface

        Sex Panther

        " (always empty almost all the time) "

        60% of the time, it works every time.

        1. Miek
          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.

    2. Ian 62

      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!?!

  7. Velv Silver badge
    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...

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Flame

      act as Security Guards as well...

      Add a taser and it *IS* a Dalek

      1. Frogmelon

        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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Go

    I don't care what it does.

    I want one.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Joke

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

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

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

      says mObi Wan Kenobi

  10. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
    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...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. TheProf
      Happy

      Indoor rocketry

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

    3. NightFox

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

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

    4. Ru
      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.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        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?

      2. Eddy Ito Silver badge
        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.

  11. Christoph Silver badge

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        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.

  12. Anomalous Cowshed

    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..."

    1. Richard IV
      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...

  13. Mage Silver badge
    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?

  14. Slacker@work

    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...

    1. Ru

      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

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  15. monkeyfish

    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?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quality control

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

  17. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Don Jefe

      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.

  18. Hilibnist
    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...

  19. Idocrase

    Ohh, oh no, nononono... I know where this is going and it is NOT going to end well...

    "All this has happened before. All this will happen again." - It IS true. We are on the brink of having immersive virtual reality glasses (Oculus Rift, Google Glass etc), we have robots like this thing that look EXACTLY like Serge (http://singularityhub.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/serge-housebot.jpg), and meantime there are projects underway to build spaceplanes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylon_%28spacecraft%29) whose engine technology resembles the engines of every sci-fi atmospheric craft, but mostly those of Vipers and X-Wings...

    I am just waiting for Nasa to announce finding the wreck of a giant starship drifting out beyond the Sun, or some archeologist to find the rusted remnants of a dropship style craft buried under Antartica or something, which carbon dating shows to be around 150 millenia old.

    Because trust me, we are going to NEED hyperdrives pretty soon, if we keep going the way we are.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_L4RtU1iRg

  20. Death_Ninja

    Pretty shit really

    So it trundles around, gets knocked over by the robot tipping El Reg gang, mains a few small children, blinds some others and even then, all it does it to take photos of the shelves so a human operator can look at the photos and decide if the stock levels are too low?

    I mean really, that's pretty shit.

    As someone else said earlier, anyone likely to be in the game of requiring such an item already has an inventory system that contains a miraculous thing called "location" and a POS system that magically decreases the "on shop shelf" location as they scan the products.

    You'd still need that same system as well as Robbie the Robot.

    Better solution - use the damned tools you've already paid for - the same ones you've probably been partially using since the 1970's

    Funny how large companies never seem to get a handle on that magical concept.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Pretty shit really

      Partially using being the operative phrase here.

      The current stock control tools require the staff to put the stock on the system correctly, then update the system when it's taken from stock room to shelves. In my experience at a medium sized retail chain, this rarely happened in some stores. Admittedly the supermarkets pay better, and use more permanent staff than we did, but it only takes a few staff not doing it right to turn your stock control system into a frustrating excursion into randomness.

      I suspect that given the quality of the fleshies they hire, and their perceptions of their own store managers, that robot overlords will appear quite attractive to various retail head offices. I await the laser-armed android store managers with interest. They'll probably have better personalities than most of the human ones anyway...

      1. Death_Ninja

        Re: Pretty shit really

        "performance related targets" for stock accuracy? ie have people taken out and shot for being screwups?

        Shouldn't be too hard to adjust systems to provide per user accounting accuracy.

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Pretty shit really

        Not *so* shit.

        Given the time it takes SWMBO to get round the supermarket, and assuming she's no better or worse than average, I can see how there's a significant time - 20 or 30 minutes - between the item being removed from the shelf and turning up at till (assuming it *does* turn up and hasn't been silently requisitioned). Plenty of time for it to be out of stock at the shelf.

        While I would expect that the prediction software associated with restocking any particular line ought to be pretty robust, having a little hovering robot around the place is more than somewhat cool.

    2. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: Pretty shit really

      There is also the existing security camera that could easily be purposed to spot and indicate a bare shelf to the folks in the stock room so the fleshy checking to see if those legs go all the way up that short skirt carefully overseeing store security isn't troubled by naked shelf warnings.

  21. Irongut

    in an out-of-hours shop there shouldn’t be any folk around

    At what point is a supermarket out of hours? They're all 24 hours round here.

    Even if a supermarket does close, the POS system should say when something is out of stock long before closing time.

    This robot is useless for its stated purpose.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it doesn't do the r2 beeping as it works, it'll be a let down. For extra credit, it could make a TIE fighter noise as it moves.

  23. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Here I am, a brain the size of a planet, and I'm asked to...

    "Check stock on shelves."

    Interesting though in that the entire canon of science, or science fiction literature - at no point did anyone predict stock checking robots.

    The future is not all it "was" cracked up to be.

  24. RainForestGuppy
    Paris Hilton

    It'll only try to to pull one of the Self Checkout tills

    m0bi: Hi Babe, Have you worked here long?

    Checkout: Beep

    m0bi: You know the I love the way the light reflects off your screen

    Checkout: Beep

    m0bi: And you've got the cutest Pin Pad buttons

    Checkout: Beep

    m0bi: You're really turning me on now.

    Checkout: Unexpected Item in bagging Area

  25. davidp231

    My question is...

    Why is it phallus-shaped?

    1. Don Jefe
      Happy

      Re: My question is...

      I would ask why you see a penis in everything? There could be interesting underlying issues going on you're not aware of yourself.

      Secondly, if you or anyone you knows penis is shaped like that thing you need to get it looked at by a professional.

      1. Graham Lockley

        Re: My question is...

        ........ Hello Doctor ? I've a small problem I'd like you to have a look at....

  26. Long John Brass Silver badge
    Terminator

    Hacking potential

    Slip in a new firmware & sit back and watch the resulting fun/chaos

    Change the code from if isHuman() then avoid(); to if isHuman() then chase();

    hours of fun I tell you :)

  27. Benchops

    Black hole

    Looks more like some kind of Vital Information Necessary CENTralized device, or VINCENT for short.

    If you don't remember, you're too young.

  28. Frogmelon

    If you could feed ink in between the ball and housing, this would make a great robotic ballpoint pen.

    In future I could see this type of technology being rolled out across the nation's highways.

    More advanced robots could zoom around road networks autonomously, acting as mobile speed cameras, tax disc and insurance checkers, possibly even doing robotic road repairs, laying down fresh road markings, that kind of thing.

    Stick a robot arm or two on it and wouldn't these be useful in warehouses for automating the transfer of items from shelf to despatch?

    Even now my mind's eye is hearking back to Quazatron and Spindizzy :)

    And Ro-Jaws from Starlord's/2000AD's Robusters/ABC Warriors :)

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