In the not too distant future when retail executives talk about front line employees being their company's most important asset, they may be referring to workers of the robotic type.
Robotic technology has made significant leaps in recent years and robots are becoming adept at carrying out complex tasks typically been done by humans.
A case in point is Baxter from Rethink Robotics. According to the company's website, Baxter, which is currently used in manufacturing settings, "performs a variety of repetitive production tasks — all while safely and intelligently working next to people. ... Baxter exhibits behavior-based 'common sense,' capable of sensing and adapting to its task and its environment."
A major selling point beyond performing tasks correctly is the price ($22,000) of putting Baxter to work. Later this year, according to The Fiscal Times, Rethink Robotics will launch a new software platform that will allow Baxter to handle even more complex tasks. It is also going to make a kit available to developers to create more applications for Baxter.
Scott Eckert, CEO of Rethink Robotics, told The Fiscal Times that developers are "are going to do all sorts of stuff we haven't envisioned." Among the stuff robots could be doing in the future is working in food service and retail stores.
"Could [Baxter] be a barista?" Mr. Eckert asked. "It's not a target market, but it's something that's pretty repeatable. Put a cup in, push a button, espresso comes out, etc. There are simple repeatable service tasks that Baxter could do over time."
Rod Brooks, chief technology officer at Rethink, doesn't see Baxter as a replacement for human workers but handling tasks side by side with them. "Lots of jobs need doing," he told AllThingsD in an interview in February. "I am scared we won't have enough robots."
How likely are robots to fill service jobs now held by humans in food service and retailing over the next 25 years?