Vallarta Pepe

Pepe the Robot is being tested at Vallarta locations across California, including the Fresno store at 3850 N. Cedar Ave. It scans for messes and other hazards in stores. Photos by Ben Hensley

published on June 22, 2022 - 1:15 PM
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An innovative new assistant has been hired by the Vallarta Supermarket located at 3850 N. Cedar Ave. in Fresno — and this assistant is unlikely to receive many HR complaints.

“Pepe the Robot” was recently rolled out at several Vallarta Supermarket locations throughout California, including in Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Fresno counties.

The robot, a creation of Kentucky-based Badger Technologies, aims to make grocery store employees’ jobs a bit easier by carrying out low-skill tasks, such as scanning for spills and other hazards, and scanning shelves for stocking assistance.

Badger Technologies, first founded in 2017, hopes the service will continue to grow in supermarkets across California.

“The company’s founders knew that there was a need for automation, especially when it came around heavily labored tasks that are very tedious and very labor intensive,” said William “BJ” Santiago, CEO of Badger Technologies. “The founders of the company felt that doing it through cameras and sensors was the best way of trying to help the retail grocers be more efficient.”

 

The robot’s appearance is very simple — a tall, sleek design with cameras mounted on the front, back and sides of the unit. The sensors enable the robot to carry out its functions.

“The form factor — the visual look of the robot — is actually very similar. We have an Inspect Robot, we have an InSight Robot, and then we have an Inform Robot,” Santiago said, explaining that the Inspect Robot scans for hazards, the InSight Robot scans shelves, and the Inform Robot carries out both features.

The unit at the Vallarta location in Fresno is the Inspect model.

“Pepe just came in to complement our existing manual floor inspections with an automated detection [system],” said Vallarta Director of Marketing Lizette Gomez. “It just came in to have an extra pair of eyes on the floor for spills and any hazards.”

Gomez also mentioned Vallarta locations have decorated their units with different adornments to draw attention. The Fresno location has been decorated with googly eyes and an informational sign, also introducing himself as “Pepe the Robot.”

The chain is currently testing Badger Technologies’ Insight model in their Bakersfield store, analyzing the ability of the model’s shelf scanning function.

“We’re testing it in different stores, different markets, just to see how it resonates with employees and the customers,” Gomez said. “We’re at our sixth one; obviously we’re going in the right direction.”

The model programmed to scan shelves for inventory improves current methods of stock checking, which are usually done manually at the end of the workday.

It does this by logging the information gathered through its scans into a portal accessible to site managers at the supermarkets.

“Fifteen minutes after it scans an aisle, a manager can go onto that portal and check store conditions,” Santiago said. “The robot’s also reporting — based on what the store wants to be reported on — a task list; so it’s actually giving the in-store associates the replenishment task list that they have to go and fix.”

Badger Technologies prides itself on their monitoring ability, able to observe their entire global fleet of robots.

“We can tell what a robot is doing every five seconds,” Santiago said. “We know the heartbeat of the robot worldwide.”

In addition to a global monitoring network for customer service, Badger Technologies is the only company currently offering a dual-capability unit, able to carry out scanning and hazard recognition tasks.

“The adoption of robots in the marketplace has grown tenfold since COVID,” Santiago added. “The retailers are strained with lack of labor, so they’re turning now to technologies that maybe in the past they wouldn’t turn to.”


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