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AT&T working on 5G robots for use in retail stores

The autonomous bots would locate stock and report store hazards.

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AT&T is working on 5G autonomous robots to be used in retail.

Angela Lang/CNET

Next time you hear "Cleanup on aisle 5," it could be a robot making that observation. AT&T is working on 5G autonomous robots for retail stores that would identify any out-of-stock, mispriced or misplaced products in a store, as well as finding store hazards. AT&T has partnered with Badger Technologies for the project, which was announced Tuesday. 

5G, the next-generation mobile technology, provides faster speeds, more capacity and lower latency -- the time it takes a stream or download to begin once you've requested it.

AT&T initially launched 5G in December in parts of Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Waco, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; and Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City. In April, AT&T expanded its 5G network to parts of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego; Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and Nashville. AT&T then added 5G to Vegas at the end of June.

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The carrier said the autonomous retail robots being developed in one of AT&T's labs require too much data to be used on traditional Wi-Fi and need the better network security and control that 5G connectivity can provide.

"The AT&T Foundry is testing 5G connectivity with Badger Technologies' robots in a multi-access edge computing (MEC) environment," AT&T said. "5G using millimeter wave spectrum and edge computing could provide Badger Technologies with the lower latency and high throughput required to process and share vast amounts of data while running concurrently with other in-store network applications."

Tim Rowland, CEO of Badger Technologies, said 5G connectivity could also be used for point of sales and operational systems in stores.

AT&T and Badger Technologies aren't the only ones working on robots for retail, even if they appear first to base the bots on 5G. Giant Food Stores in January rolled out its own googly-eyed helper bot that takes on the aisles of the company's grocery stores, flagging spills and other hazards. And Walmart in October said it's testing the use of robots to handle repeatable tasks like scanning shelves and making sure pricing is correct. In December, Walmart said it would be place autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in its stores across the country.