Posted by: crudbasher | September 27, 2011

A Case Against Automation in the Classroom?

Hmm. Apparently some grocery stores are removing their self checkout lanes. Surveys of customers indicate they prefer to go through the human cashier lanes instead. Why is this happening and what does it tell us about automation in the classroom?

I’ve actually used these self checkout lanes so I have some personal experience here. I will only use one if several conditions are met.

1. The human cashier lanes are backed up.

2. I only have a few items to buy.

If there is a human cashier available, I will use them every time. So why is that? It is because the self checkout lane is a misuse of automation. Let me explain.

When you apply automation to a process it should save either time or money (preferably both). While the self checkout probably saved the store money (but I have no data on that) it certainly takes longer to use. Customers aren’t check out people, and they aren’t baggers. We aren’t good at those things. As we struggle to get the laser scanner to work we keep being reminded how much easier it is to have a cashier do it for us. In addition it costs the exact same amount. It’s like going to a car wash and having to wash your car yourself.

If a human cashier is faster and it costs the same, of course people will chose them.

What will change this is RFID tags. Check out this video.

These are tiny expendable radio tags embedded in products. When you have these in each product, you will just wheel your cart past the scanner and it will calculate how much you owe instantly. Swipe your card and go. Very very fast and easy.

While many technologies are being suggested for the classroom, some will be better than others. We can learn from this example about how to evaluate technology.

    • We wrote earlier this year about the decision by Albertsons LLC, which controls about 1/3 of that grocery store brand’s outlets, to shut down self-checkout machines in favor of human cashiers. Now a new report says we supermarket shoppers are just not using the self-checkout aisle as frequently as we were in recent years.

      According to a Food Marketing Institute study, 16% of supermarket transactions were performed at self-checkout lanes in 2010, down from a peak of 22% three years earlier. Additionally, shoppers reported being much more satisfied with their supermarket experience when dealing with an actual human being.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. One problem with that RFID future shopping: It does not address the self bagging issue. The most convenient scenario in that case would be to bag the groceries as you pull them off the shelf, but it’s still you who’s doing the bagging. You also then need a bag supply on the cart.

    In addition to your two reasons for using the self checkout I also use it if there is a clerk or bag person who I know is judgmental about the products I am buying. As an example see Free Agents, Pilot Episode.

    • I wonder if we can redesign shopping carts to support reusable bags? Lots of people bring their own these days. Even if you use plastic, it’s still better to bag it as you put it in the cart rather than load the cart, unload it to scan it, then bag everything.

      I hadn’t thought of purchasing things discretely. Good call. Thanks for commenting!!

      • Not sure if they could allow you to use your own bags any more. Too easy to use a bag lined with a wire mesh setup like a Faraday cage to block the RFID signals. I think that would promote theft.

        I suppose they could build some kind of load cell into the cart so it compares weights of goods to items in the RFID checkout list. Most of the time I don’t even use a cart.

  2. I wonder how long it will be until they stick a robot arm at checkout to bag things for you? You roll your cart into the processing box, it RFID’s everything in a second, then a robot arm with vision rapidly and efficiently packs it all up for you. My brain hurts thinking about the algorithm to pack groceries. lol

    • Haha. You could just throw all the items into the air and the robot could snatch and pack them like this:

      • Lol yeah I have seen that vid. Great idea and fun for kids too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: