Wal-Mart deploying shelf-scanning robots in 50 of its stores



After testing shelf-scanning robots in stores in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and California, Wal-Mart has announced that approximately 50 of its stores across the United States will start using the robots to “replenish inventory faster,” in an effort to save employees time when products run out.

The two-foot tall robots, which are a product of a company called Bossa Nova Robotics, are equipped with cameras that scan aisles to check stock and identify items that are missing and misplaced, as well as incorrect prices and mislabeling. The data obtained by the robots is passed on to store employees, who then stock the shelves and correct errors.

“It has an objective to go look at certain things,” says John Crecelius, Wal-Mart U.S. vice president of central operations, via the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“For example, we might have it run very early before our morning associates show up so that when they show up, we have the right information to say this is what's most important. This is where we need your help right now and this is what's most important to the customer. It helps them figure out what's most important without having to go through the entire facility to figure those things out.”

According to Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, the robots are “50 percent more productive than their human counterparts,” as they can scan shelves more accurately and three times faster. Store employees can only scan shelves about twice a week.

Wal-Mart is quick to point out, though, that the robots will not replace workers or affect employee headcount in stores.

Adding robots to its stores is the latest move by Wal-Mart to “digitize its stores to make shopping faster,” as over the last year, the company has installed giant “pickup towers,” which operate like self-service kiosks, and serve as places where customers can pick up their online orders.

Pharmacy and financial services in stores have also been digitized, and customers can also scan their own purchases, which speeds up the checkout process.

Wal-Mart has also been testing UAS for home delivery, curbside pickup and checking warehouse inventories.