In many parts of the country, the grocery store cashier is being replaced by self checkout machines. There are still some human cashiers, but the machines are clearly taking over. Even so, human customers can still make all sorts of mistakes, intentionally or not, and that’s why a robot cashier could be the way of the future. We just have to teach them how to do that job.
And that is what researchers at Cornell University are doing. They’re teaching a robot named Baxter how to handle items as a grocery store checkout clerk. He has to learn how to handle delicate items like heirloom tomatoes and egg cartons, but he also has to be careful about wielding that new set of kitchen knives you are buying too. Baxter is learning based on human feedback in a scenario similar to that of a real-world supermarket.
Build by Rethink Robotics of Boston, Baxter is an inexpensive robot that is meant to be flexible, working best in assembly line-like situations alongside his human co-workers. Based on human intervention and manual corrections, Baxter is learning that he shouldn’t pick up the knife and drive it into the abdomen of the paying customer. That’d be bad customer service, I’d say.