Stop & Shop’s parent company, the Dutch food retailer Ahold Delhaize, has started deploying robots named Marty to more than 100 Massachusetts locations.
At a Stop & Shop in Quincy, Marty spots a fallen price tag in front of a shelf of Easter candy. The robot’s cameras take a picture, which is then sent to a worker hundreds of miles away at a facility run by the company TaskUs. The worker looks at the picture to confirm the problem, then Marty alerts customers and store employees.
Marty is just the most visible example of new technology rolling out at Stop & Shop. A robotic warehouse system designed by the Waltham-based company Takeoff assembles online grocery orders for several stores in the Hartford, Conn. area. And the company plans to launch remote-controlled delivery cars in Greater Boston this spring.
Some employees worry that this trend could eliminate jobs.
Carvalho says automation is one of several concerns the union has raised in stalled contract talks with Stop & Shop, which have stretched out for weeks under the threat of a strike.
But Carvalho warns automation has the potential to affect more than the company’s employees. If people lose their jobs to automation, he says, they won’t have money to put back into communities or businesses.
“We do believe that jobs will be created by this technology, but that our members will need retraining to be able to take them on,” he said.
But that training doesn’t exist yet, says Tom Davenport, a Babson College professor and MIT researcher who writes about the intersection of business and technology. He says most organizations don’t have enough technology in place yet to know what kind of training to provide — and technology’s purpose is often to replace people.
Other retailers seem to agree. Walmart recently deployed a fleet of robot janitors. Some Lowes hardware stores feature a robot that can track inventory data. And nearly 500 Marty robots will arrive in Stop & Shops and other Ahold Delhaize grocery stores this year.