Walmart is trialling autonomous shelf-scanning robots in 50 stores.
Developed by Bossa Nova Robotics in San Francisco, the six-foot-tall machines travel up and down the aisles, checking for out-of-stock items, incorrect prices, and wrong or missing labels. This information is then fed back to store staff who can make sure the right items are in the right place, and at the right price.
“Each shelf aisle can be scanned in two or three minutes,” Tiffany Wilson, a spokeswoman for Walmart, told The Mercury News. “We are using that data to potentially inform our associates to determine which areas need the most attention.”
The technology is similar to a self-driving car, using sensors and artificial intelligence to help navigate around the store.
“While we don’t have the risks of big machines moving at fast speeds, we do have the challenge of navigating a space that is constantly changing,” said Martin Hitch, chief business officer of Bossa Nova Robotics.
For example, if an aisle is blocked, the robot must determine a different route and remember which aisles and shelves have not been scanned so that it can complete the job.
The robots will not replace their human colleagues; the idea is that they will undertake routine tasks, freeing up workers so they have more time to help customers.
“It’s looking at tasks that are repeatable, predictable,” Wilson explained. “This way, our associates can spend their time focusing on customers and selling merchandise. While the job may change, and the type of work being done may change, robots are not going to replace human contact and human touch.”
Bossa Nova is also working with four other retailers to introduce in-store robots, ABC News reported.