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Photo: Kaveh Waddell/Axios

Bleeping and whirring through the aisles of a sporting goods store in downtown San Francisco, Tally — a tall, wheeled robot bristling with sensors — was doing what it promises: It was counting. The bot, made by Simbe Robotics and trundling through a Decathlon store, uses its sensors to read electronic merchandise tags, twirling this way and that to pinpoint products.

The big picture: Robots have long helped to assemble cars and move products around enormous warehouses. But Tally is the latest in a slow bot invasion into increasingly visible spaces, like sidewalks, malls and restaurants.

  • They’re taking up the roles of delivery workers, security guards and waiters.
  • Their makers insist, in a familiar line, that they’re not stealing jobs as much as freeing up humans to do better or more interesting work. That may be the case now, as the bots are tested, but not for long if they’re taken up in droves.

On a recent Friday in San Francisco, Tally checked up on water-sport gear during its daily round of Decathlon’s only U.S. location.

  • Tally is also used in grocery stores, where it generally roams the floor three times a day. Shelf-checking bots help store managers keep track of inventory — gathering sales data and preventing shelves from going empty.
  • Simbe CEO Brad Bogolea said the robot requires little in the way of support — just over 1.5 feet of clearance in the aisles and a charging dock that it can track down itself when it needs juice.
  • When first deployed, the robot uses lidar and 30 high-res cameras to map the new space, then it relies on smartphone-quality cameras and RFID readers for stock checks.

"Our customers love Tally," Bogolea told me at Decathlon. Soon after, a pair of shoppers jumped when they turned around to notice Tally waiting to pass. "That’s creepy," one shopper said. "You guys should know that."

Go deeper: Walmart’s shelf-scanning bots (ZDNet)

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
7 hours ago - World

Putin to demand legal guarantee against NATO expansion in call with Biden

Biden and Putin meeting in Geneva in June. Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin is demanding a legally binding guarantee that NATO will not expand east — including to Ukraine — and plans to raise the issue in an upcoming phone call with President Biden, according to the Kremlin.

Why it matters: Russia has massed more than 94,000 troops on the border with Ukraine and could be preparing for a large-scale invasion at the end of January, Ukraine's defense minister said Friday.