Walmart is about to add artificial intelligence to its stores.
The company recently unveiled “a small army of autonomous scanning robots" to its stores in California, according to KPIX5-TV, in Milpitas, California.
The robots measure 6 feet tall and include lights, cameras and radar sensors, which scan the shelves for empty slots and check price tags — tasks normally carried out by human employees.
The robot uses LIDAR and video cameras to see what is missing and what needs restocking. According to KPIX5, the robots' vision is similar to what self-driving cars use to map out roads.
Martin Hitch, the chief business officer for Bossa Nova Robotics, a San Francisco-based company that built the robot, told KPIX5 that the robot will maneuver around boxes and chart out alternate routes as well.
“We boxed it in with four TV cameras earlier, and it made a decision on the fly as to how to figure out a way around so that it could carry on with its job. That’s the most rewarding thing, when it successfully navigates a really complex and dynamic space and just gets on with the job. It’s unobtrusive, it just carries on.”
Wal-Mart began testing the robots back in October 2017 at 50 stores across Arkansas, Pennsylvania and California, according to Reuters. Wal-Mart said at the time that this would improve customer and employee experience.
“If you are running up and down the aisle and you want to decide if we are out of Cheerios or not, a human doesn’t do that job very well, and they don’t like it,” Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Wal-Mart U.S. and e-commerce, told Reuters.
King said robots are 50 percent more productive than humans and can scan the shelves three times faster.
Wal-Mart told KGO-7 that the robots will help the now-free employees who used to keep track of shelves “focus more on delivering a better customer service experience.”8 comments on this story
Wal-Mart executives don’t think this will overtake human jobs, either.
Shopper Deborah Espinoza told KTVU she’s uneasy about the devices.
"Well, it's a little scary because I feel it's taking somebody's job,” she said. “But if it isn't taking somebody's job, if it's gonna do benefits for Wal-Mart, then it would be good.”
According to The Sacramento Bee, San Francisco-based Bossa Nova Robotics spent six years developing the robot. The company said it is offering services to three other major retailers, but declined to disclose those companies.