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5 things: Robot self-checkout of the FUTURE

Here’s 5 things you may have missed in grocery

Robots who bag: Paper or plastic? Human or robot? One day shoppers may get to choose whether they want their groceries bagged by those in the flesh or those made of steel and sensors. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have created an AI-enabled, soft-handed robot system that can handle items in the self-checkout lane. Check out the science behind this invention. An algorithm helps the robot separate delicate items from the sturdier ones. An RGB-D camera equipped with computer vision tech allows the robot to identify items on a conveyor belt and estimate sizes. Finger-like soft grippers are used to pick food up, and pressure sensors loaded on the grippers give the robot nerve-like sensitivities so it can determine if the product needs to be handled with care. The AI algorithm assigns a “delicacy score” to each item. Those with high scores are placed to the side, while items that can handle the load are immediately placed in the bag. That’s great and all, but I’ll be really impressed when this one-armed bagging bandit can run after those who have forgotten their receipts. —Bill Wilson

Can AI save grocery shoppers money? Some might argue that 2024 is the year of AI, but it’s also the year of high prices at the grocery store. That got the folks at CNET asking whether artificial intelligence can solve the problem for consumers. They used Microsoft’s Copilot over other options like ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini because of its cooking assistant feature. CNET fed the AI model its normal shopping list and asked how to save money on groceries. Some of the suggestions were useful, while others were baffling. In place of avocados, for instance, Copilot suggested substituting Greek yogurt, hummus, or cottage cheese. I can tell you that I’m going to have words with anyone who puts cottage cheese on my taco. Suggestions like buying large containers of plain yogurt and adding your own fruit or honey for flavor is actually a pretty useful tip. CNET also asked the AI model a number of other questions which returned mixed results. The story advises to take the advice with a grain of salt. –Tim Inklebarger

A Trader Joe’s is (temporarily) sunk: Trader Joe’s is well known for stocking food items other grocers do not have. Well, how about a sinkhole? It happened at a Trader Joe’s in the city of Larkspur, Calif. Okay, technically it’s not a sinkhole, but a “failing column” in the refrigeration area that compromised at least one roof beam due to water damage. Hey, if it walks like a duck and acts like a duck… Shoppers at the Trader Joe’s were certainly calling it a sinkhole. It was determined that the “sinkhole” was caused by leaking refrigeration condensate, which in turn led to the hole…I mean, floor failure. The store has been closed as employees removed freezers and made repairs, and Trader Joe’s said it hopes the location will be reopened as soon as possible. Once it does, I would watch your step if I was you. —BW

Clever like a Misfit: It’s been a few months since Foxtrot and Dom’s Kitchen & Market abruptly went out of business. Foxtrot said in early June that they plan to reopen at select locations, but we’ve been wondering what happened to all of Foxtrot’s private-label products. Prior to the announcement, we visited a Foxtrot in Chicago and were raring to write a feature on the small retail operation’s coffee and mixed nuts and organic coconut dates. That’s just a few of the private-label products they offered at the fledgling grocery chain. Modern Retail answered the question for us with its feature about Misfits Market. That’s the group that sells slightly damaged goods and misshapen produce at a huge discount. Modern Retail reports that Misfits purchased the inventory, enabling the company to add “35 products from 15 emerging brands to its offerings that were supposed to be sold at Foxtrot.” That includes products from Bon Bon, Deliciously Ella, Leisure Hydration, Spring & Mulberry, Couplet Coffee, and Courtside, Model Retail noted. The opportunistic purchase was part of a larger effort to begin offering hot brands like Magic Spoon and expand its own private-label line of products. Wild stuff. –TI

Walmart through the ages: Walmart just celebrated the 62nd anniversary of its first store, which opened July 2, 1962. The magazine Redbook took a walk down retail memory lane, posting a bunch of cool vintage Walgreens photos, including Walmart founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen, on their wedding day; an original grand opening flyer from the first Walmart in 1962; and a replica of Sam Walton’s original office, which was recreated from photographs following his passing in 1992 and which now lives on in the Walmart Museum. (Yes, there is a Walmart museum). Check it out! —Chloe Riley


Do you think we will one day see the one-armed robot bagging groceries at stores? Leave a comment below or reach out to the SN news staff at [email protected].



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