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Marty the robot alerts Giant workers to messes

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    Marty is an in-store robotic system designed to look for debris and other hazards on the floor at the Giant grocery store in Lehighton. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS

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    Marty is an in-store robotic system designed to look for debris and other hazards on the floor at the Giant grocery store in Lehighton. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS

  • Empty

    Marty is an in-store robotic system designed to look for debris and other hazards on the floor at the Giant grocery store in Lehighton. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS

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    This is Marty’s docking station, where it goes to recharge every evening after a 12-hour work day at the Giant grocery store in Lehighton. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS

Published January 25. 2020 07:31AM

If you’ve been in a Giant Martin’s grocery store, then you surely have come across Marty the robot. He looks friendly with saucer-sized googly eyes, a big blue smile, a lighted forehead, and an appearance slightly reminiscent of Gumby.

Maybe you’ve even felt like he was following you. He wasn’t, assured Michelle Rex, the Lehighton store manager. He will try to move out of a customer’s way, which has resulted in a shuffling of both trying to figure out how to pass by.

“If you just stand still, he’ll go around you,” Rex said.

Marty can’t talk to you or answer questions like Siri and Alexa, so don’t ask it where the peanut butter is.

“At this point, he’s here to help us keep the store neater and cleaner,” she said. “And give the associates more time to focus on our customers.”

Rex said that Marty is preprogrammed to go up and down the aisles and around the perimeter looking for hazards, such as liquids, powders and any type of debris on the floor. He is sort of like a vacuum robot, but instead of moving around the building randomly, he follows a path. Well, and he doesn’t pick up messes like a vacuum.

Instead he stops and uses the light on his forehead to communicate. The usual calm blue light starts flashing yellow for caution. He pages the store associates with the location of the mess and waits there until someone comes to clean it up.

“Marty is a huge asset to the team and keeps us on our toes,” Rex said.

Once the mess is gone, the associate resets Marty. The light turns green, and then back to the peaceful blue. Marty is off to look for more hazards.

“He does a great job. He’s always on the move,” she said. “He never stops, until he docks.”

Marty works from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and then heads to the docking station to rest and recharge his battery. Everyone knows when he’s docking, because the light turns red. Rex said that is to make sure no one is in the way as he pulls into the docking station.

“We know we have to make room for Marty,” she said.

The in-store robotic system was tested at grocery stores in Carlisle and Harrisburg, and is now in all 172 grocery stores owned by the Giant Martins chain, Rex said. Nicholas Bertram, president of GIANT Food Stores, said, “Bringing robotics and A.I. (artificial intelligence) from a research lab to the sales floor has been a very exciting journey, and we were thrilled by the customer response in our pilot stores.”

Before the robotic system was created, Rex said associates conducted clean sweeps of the store looking for spills and debris. Now, they have more time to attend to the needs of the customers.

“And it’s ensuring a safer environment for customers and clients,” she said. The company leaders thought creating a safer environment was worth the cost of the technology.

Marty “sees” the hazards through the use of multiple cameras located on both sides of his “head,” along his back and on the base, Rex said. He did have a couple glitches when he first started at the store. Rex explained that most Giant grocery stores do not have a wall of windows like the one in Lehighton. Marty misinterpreted the view through the windows as more store and tried to go outside. He didn’t, she added. A quick call to the programmers, and he was back on his mapped-out path — inside the store.

There was also one day when he didn’t come off his dock and start his route. His human “co-workers” joked that he was taking a day off.

“We just treat him like a team member,” Rex said.

Another quick call to the programmers, he was off his dock and on his route.

“The kids absolutely love him,” Rex said.

They pose for pictures with him and she said she saw on social media that one child even dressed up like him for Halloween.

“Marty’s here to stay,” she said.

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