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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 5 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a powerful and potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring an array of hazards, from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten coastal property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

59 mins ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."