We checked out the expanded program at a Walmart location in Burbank. Customers there will see a robot in the aisles with bright lights and cameras on it. The autonomous bots propel themselves down the aisles one by one, avoiding human shoppers as they do their work.
“[There are] 150,000 products in a store – it can scan all of them in a typical day,” explained Martin Hitch, Chief Business Officer at Bossa Nova Robotics, the company that makes the robots.
After an initial test, Walmart is expanding its use of the robots in a larger pilot program at 50 locations nationwide, including several in California.
The robots contain a variety of sensors and cameras that allow them to navigate the aisles and take photos of every shelf. Computer software then looks for out of stock items, missing labels or incorrect prices.
Products can be restocked faster since the robots can potentially work around the clock to give Walmart stores a near real-time look at stock levels and other issues.
“What that means for customers is that when you come into the store your item is in stock, it’s in the right place and it’s the right price,” said Tiffany Wilson, a director of communications at Walmart.
The biggest challenge?
“It is very very hard to develop an autonomous system that can live in such a dynamic environment,” said Hitch.
The big question – will these robots take away more jobs from humans?
“We will always need people. We are a store and a company that is people led. This is a tool that we’re considering that will our arm us with information that we need to give our associates information to serve our customers better,” said Wilson.