May the workforce be taken away from you

15 January 2018 | Aaron Wise

Whether you’re a fan of Stars Wars or not, there’s no denying its global brand gets people talking and one particular UK company has used the film’s latest box office hit, The Last Jedi, to roll out its very own ‘C-3P0’.

With the eighth instalment of the film, or ninth if you include stand-alone Rogue One, still being shown in cinemas across the world, online supermarket company Ocado has introduced its prototype ‘SecondHands’.

The EU-funded robot won’t be taking part in any galactic adventures like its Disney counterpart, but instead will be used to take away an element of a technician's job that is physically demanding, boring or unpleasant.

Ocado, which has its headquarters in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and operates in Poland, Bulgaria and Spain, insists the maintenance robot will improve productivity at its heavily automated warehouses.

But whilst SecondHands now undergoes experiments at the company’s robotics research lab, what was hoped to be a light-hearted PR move by Ocado has received criticism over its approach to train robots to take on human jobs.

Following a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year that said around 10 million workers were at risk of losing their jobs to robots over the next 15 years, with around 30% of existing UK jobs susceptible to automation by the 2030s, I can’t imagine staff will be inviting SecondHands to the pub after work.

The robot might be adorable and look completely innocent, but Ocado’s decision to announce it on the back of The Last Jedi has caused more of a disturbance in the workforce than they had hoped.

I can understand why Ocado made the move fresh off the back of the Star Wars flick and I must admit, the robot looks pretty cool - if I was 20 years younger I’d definitely want it as a toy.

But is there really a good or right time to announce robots are being rolled out to take on human jobs? Probably not. 

I think it’s a good bit of PR by Ocado, but then again, my job isn’t at risk of being lost to a robot…. yet.