Scottish Supermarket Fires Robot Employee for Scaring Customers

iStock
iStock

Fear not, grocery clerks: Robots probably aren't going to be coming for your jobs anytime soon, judging from one machine's abrupt hire-and-fire in Edinburgh, Scotland. According to the Daily Record, Fabio, the shopbot robot, was canned after just one week on the job because he wasn't clicking with human patrons.

Fabio was recruited to work at Scottish supermarket Margiotta's flagship store as part of the BBC's Six Robots & Us, a TV program/experiment designed to gauge how useful humans find robots. The bot was programed to greet customers with hugs and flattery ("Hello, gorgeous") and guide them to various products.

Ultimately, though, Fabio lacked both the personality and nuance of a real-life employee. Background noise hampered his ability to understand specific requests, and at times his directions were correct but unhelpful; when asked where the beer was, for example, he'd reply, "It's in the alcohol section." His sales abilities were also lacking: When providing patrons with pulled pork samples, Fabio handed out samples to two patrons every 15 minutes, whereas his human colleagues managed to charm 12 customers into accepting the freebies.

Margiotta's owners thought that Fabio would enhance visitors' in-store experience, but they soon noted that they were actually avoiding the 'bot. They eventually caved, and informed the robot that his services would no longer be needed.

Shoppers may have felt relieved over Fabio's abrupt retirement, but staffers reportedly mourned his loss: While packing the machine up, one clerk actually began crying. They'd grown fond of him, plus he'd helped them dodge redundant requests from patrons—even if he wasn't so great at helping the actual customers themselves.

[h/t Daily Record]

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

iStock.com/Techin24
iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

Uber Passengers Can Now Shush Their Drivers with a Mute Button

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Even friendly and sociable people don't always feel like talking, especially if it's late, they're sad, or they're in the middle of an arduous trip. For customers of the ride-sharing service app Uber, there's now a way to terminate conversation with drivers. You simply push a button on your phone and request they stop talking.

This slightly dystopian feature is part of Uber Black, the app's premium interface for people looking for a ride in a luxury vehicle and drivers with top satisfaction ratings. If a passenger isn't in the mood for chatting, hitting "quiet preferred" on the app will notify the driver to stop speaking. They can also opt for "happy to chat" if they care to engage in conversation. It's part of a bundle of features that also allows users to ask for help with their luggage, request more time to get to the vehicle, or adjust the temperature inside the car.

The button is an attempt by Uber to address some of the ambiguity surrounding the relationship between driver and passenger for the service, which allows both parties to rate the other on the overall experience. Some passengers have felt that being uninterested in speaking to their driver might lead to a lower score.

The quiet button might eventually be rolled out to encompass all of Uber's platforms. If the idea of a human mute button is uncomfortable, passengers can also choose "no preference" and let conversation—or the lack of it—takes its natural course.

[h/t Vox]

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