Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Robot grocery stores, get ready for it.

In my continuing series on job destruction and what inevitably happens when you raise minimum wage to idiotic heights, I give you the robot grocery store.

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands/NEW YORK, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Grocery group Ahold Delhaize will roll out small, automated warehouses to speed order picking and cut delivery times, Reuters has learned, as it revamps its ecommerce business in response to rising competition in a fast-growing sector.
At an investor event on Nov. 13, the world's eighth biggest food retailer is set to showcase a partnership that will allow it to automate order collection at mini "robot supermarkets" attached to the stores of its U.S. chains like Stop & Shop.
Now Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize is teaming up with Takeoff, a start-up which builds small warehouses that stack groceries to the ceiling to save space and use robot arms to assemble shoppers' orders for items such as beer, milk, bread and fruit.
The warehouses serve as condensed supermarkets that can supply several stores with click-and-collect orders. They cost about $3 million to build, which Takeoff says is less than the cost of a typical store revamp.
"Ahold is preparing for a major push," Curt Avallone, Takeoff's chief development officer who led digital innovation at Stop & Shop until 2003, told Reuters.
"If it goes well, both from their side and our side, the hope is we would rapidly be able to build quite a few."

Lets list the advantages for the vendors here:
No shoplifting (Which is huge)
No employee stealing (Which is huge)
Much reduced breakage (robots don't drop stuff as much)
Much reduced spoilage (Just In Time delivery and stock rotation goes a lot faster.)
Tiny square footage compared to regular market
NO EMPLOYEES means the store can be open 24/7/365, including Sundays and holidays. It's a vending machine.

This is a perfect setup for big cities where supermarkets can't afford the real estate costs. Tiny space stacked two stories high with racking, no aisles, no lighting, no checkout, no cash registers, no samples, no nothing. Order on your smart-phone, all your crap gets spit out a chute into your car, you drive off.

One problem. All those people currently working at stores? They're on welfare now. They can't afford to buy the food at the robot store.

The Phantom

 Update: Welcome, Instapundit!


Jonathan H said...

I agree with all of your points except one: Employees
I think they will still have to have employees for some things, the same as the new McDonald's still have some employees.
At a minimum they will have to have someone to fix or cleanup when the robots do make a mistake, which at this point will still happen often, and they will still be needed for customer interaction, bagging, cleaning, and some other tasks the robots can't do at all yet.
Will they go fully automated? At some point, surely - but not yet. It will be a huge difference in labor costs, and by cutting most of the staff, the employer can pay enough to get a few good, motivated, workers and still save lots.
Aldi does that with their current store - have a few good workers, pay them well, and get lots of work out of them. 6 years ago the store near me started at $11 and went up quickly from there.

The Phantom said...

I agree, the state of automation right now means they'll have to have humans there to pick up after the robots, deal with customers etc.

My larger point though is that they don't -want- to need humans, they'd very much like to take employees out of the loop entirely and go full Rube Goldberg vending machine.

Where there's a will there's a way, as they say.

My other point is that there is a limit to how many non-performing humans a society can have before something breaks. If everybody with less than Rocket Scientist on their resume is out of work, that's not going to be a very congenial social environment for any of us to live in.

Long term, automating -everything- is going to be a very costly and bad idea.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article!

"If everybody with less than Rocket Scientist on their resume is out of work, that's not going to be a very congenial social environment for any of us to live in."

Which is why, given the inevitability of the loss of work for 'most' people, we will have, like it or not, a basic income (eg,'universal basic income').

Americans will not starve to death or forage for scraps (Venezuela?) while those who own the means of production have their cake.

I'm as conservative as one can be but this maxed out social welfare state is simply inevitable. The only question is the timeline - 20 years? 50? 100?. Recall that Kurzweil's singularity is only 27 years away.

Mike S.

The Phantom said...

Hi Mike, thanks for the comment.

Silicon Valley is the model for the new "Rocket Science" economy. Here's what's happening with the "universal basic income" thing, otherwise known as The Dole:

55,000 homeless in San Francisco, with Hep A and typhus spreading from tent-city to Uber HQ. When the sidewalks are covered in shit, -everybody- gets sick.

Essentially mass-welfare is a non-starter. You take away all the jobs except for the elite, what you get is a civil war. See French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Cuban Revolution, Chinese Revolution, etc.

So if we don't want a full-dress civil war, we should figure out a way for normal people to make a living.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate the reply.

Believe me, I know all about the Peoples Republic of Caulifornia! I lived in Oakland for 38 years before escaping here to Southern Arizona (although now we've apparently gone purple after this election).

I certainly wouldn't normally advocate for The Dole, as you rightly put it, and not anytime soon like some leftists are, but you've already said THERE WILL BE NO JOBS at some point in the not-so-far future.

A work-free life could cause all kinds of problems but I tell my son to look at middle-class retired folks rather than welfare recipients, or the homeless, for what motivated people, the majority of Americans, would do with their lives, being 'retired' from birth. Seniors travel, they join or create clubs of interest, pursue hobbies and avocations, have active lives in lots of ways. They don't lay about drinking or smoking pot and playing video games.

If a future citizen had to take a make-work type job in order to receive his income, ok. But what kinds of jobs would they be? And why wouldn't ever more advanced robots be able to do those low-skilled jobs since those are the very jobs they will be taking first (and already are).

There is NO way around the coming robot revolution unless 1) government shuts down the technology, or 2) one believes that we will very soon reach a ceiling above which technology stalls. Either one, really?

Obviously we don't want a civil war so the only recourse will be to, one way or another - make-work jobs or free money - give people an income.

Anyway, that's my analysis.

Mike S.

A Boy Named Joe said...

The grocery store of the future will have 2 employees. A man and a dog. The man's job will be to feed the dog. The dog's job will be to stop the man from touching any of the equipment.

Orvan Taurus said...

Something like this has happened before. Once upon a time, making a call meant talking to an operator. Then local exchanges got direct dial. And eventually even long distance got direct dial. The network is now very automated indeed (and changed, yes).. with a few (by comparison) relative specialists keeping things running.

So it might be a slow thing in places, and not ever a truly complete thing, but I would certainly expect to see progress along this line.