Edinburgh supermarket fires Fabio the robot after one week because he was confusing customers

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
Fabio the robot has been sacked from his supermarket position (BBC)

A robot hired by a Scottish supermarket has been fired from his position after just one week because he was confusing customers.

Fabio, a ‘ShopBot’ who was taken on as a shop assistant at the Edinburgh branch of Margiotta as part of an experiment by Heriot-Watt University’s Interaction Lab for the BBC’s Six Robots & US.

The bot was programmed with directions to hundreds of items in the store and he was initially a hit with shoppers, who fell for his ’hello gorgeous’ greeting, high fives, jokes and offers of hugs.

However, Fabio quickly began confusing customers after failing to understand their requests due to background noise.

His advice soon became unhelpful, simply telling people to go to the alcohol section when they asked where to find beer.

The robot started to confuse customers with his advice (BBC)

Another experiment saw him programmed to only offer samples of pulled pork – but he only managed to tempt two people, compared to human workers managing to get 12 every 15 minutes on average.

Luisa Margiotta, who runs the chain of shops with father Franco and sister Elena, told The Daily Telegraph that shoppers started to go out of their way to avoid Fabio.

She said: “Conversations didn’t always go well. An issue we had was the movement limitations of the robot. It was not able to move around the shop and direct customers to the items they were looking for.

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“Instead it just gave a general location, for example, ‘cheese is in the fridges’, which was not very helpful.”

When Franco was sacked from his position, he replied “Are you angry?”, leaving staff members reduced to tears.

Dr Oliver Lemon, director of the Interaction Lab at Heriot-Watt, said: “One of things we didn’t expect was the people working in the shop became quite attached to it.

Fabio was initially a hit with customers for giving them high-fives and hugs (BBC)

“When we had to pack it up and put it back in the box one of them started crying.

“It was good in a way, because we thought the opposite would happen and they would feel threatened by it because it was competing for their job.”

Luisa believes robots could never replace their human counterparts – but may be able to help out in warehouses.

She added: “We find our customers love a personal interaction and speaking to our staff is a big part of that.

“Our staff members know our regulars very well and can have conversations on a daily a basis, and I doubt robots would be able to fulfil this.”