Wal-Mart Trials AI Robots

It is never a fun job for employees to spend hours and hours keeping track of inventory, especially in a huge company like Wal-Mart Store, which has more than 20 million items sitting on the shelves. 

However, this job must exist. Without it, the retailer will suffer from the loss of profit from every out-of-stock item. Hence, the cost incurred will be even higher. This is especially important to online stores, considering the increase of online shopping on platforms such as Amazon.com.

Wal-Mart came out a clever idea to solve this issue by adopting an autonomous robot started up by Bossa Nova, which is combined with artificial intelligence (AI). 

The height of the robot is just two feet tall, and it comes with an extendable “foot” that allows it to reach above six feet. It drives itself around the store and captures the shelves in photos which are then stored in its memory. In only two minutes, the robot can inspect up to 80 feet worth of units in the store. It can then pick out the out-of-stock products, spot wrongly priced items and identify any labels that are missing.

The robot can store two terabytes of data. It uses AI to analyze raw data and calculate the status of each item on the shelves in terms of its price, location and availability. The processed information will then be passed to Wal-Mart employees to take further actions if required.

"Access to data is the foundation of a truly seamless omni-channel retail business," said Martin Hitch, chief business officer at Bossa Nova. "Our solution provides visibility into on-shelf inventory and helps the retailers improve store operations to better serve their customers, whether in-store or for online pickup. Wal-Mart is retail's innovation leader and we're excited to be a part of their advanced technology initiative."

Humans are not as efficient than AI robots when doing this kind of job. Robots are 50 per cent more productive when it comers to searching for items for customers. They can complete the task three times faster than humans, and they are even more accurate when it comes to this, Wal-Mart's Chief Technology Officer Jeremy King stated.

Wal-Mart is expanding the assessment to 50 other locations after limiting trials to a few stores in Arkansas, California and Pennsylvania. The location and time allocated to robotic assistance will be decided based on customer feedback.

Nowadays, many other retailers are also using robotics in store to enhance their working operations. Leader of E-commerce Amazon spent $775 million on Kiva Systems. The orange robot keeps track of the shipping centers and completes all the shipping processes efficiently, from selecting the correct stocks to package to getting them ready for shipment.