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I, Robot

Walmart is testing would-be R2D2s in 50 stores.

“Autonomous robot in Aisle 12.”

Surprisingly, that’s a real-deal scenario in 50 Walmart stores, where the discounter is testing a fleet of stock-monitoring machines that are helping to keep things tidy.

The pilot program has been expanded to four states, where the six-foot-tall automatons patrol the aisles, scanning shelves for stock-outs, misplaced or mispriced items, and missing or incorrect labels.

The mechanized crew, developed by Bossa Nova Robotics, wheel around at 2-3 mph and make three daily passes through the stores. Walmart is testing which time periods work best, and how to use the machines’ collected shelf data to reduce out-of-stocks and even improve online fulfillment.

Walmart isn’t the first big-box chain to employ retail robots: Lowe’s’ LoweBot is similarly scanning inventory and capturing real-time data in test stores — and is also answering simple questions for customers.

See: Lowe’s Walks The Tech Walk

But if flesh-and-blood associates feel threatened, they shouldn’t. Walmart says their mechanical counterparts are intended to free them up from menial tasks to spend more time helping customers. And besides, somebody has to restock those shelves.

Hat tip to Business Insider.