Artificial intelligence will soon be put to work at Walmart stores around the country. And it could be a game-changer for retail. The company is launching a small army of autonomous scanning robots. The robots are 6 feet tall, equipped with an array of lights, cameras, and radar sensors.
Referring to them as an “army” sounds scary. What do they do?
It then goes up and down each aisle on its own, at 2 to 3 mph, scanning the shelves for empty spots, and also checking the price tags.
So it does a boring job, determining which shelves need to be filled and verifying prices.
Martin Hitch, the chief business officer at Bossanova, the San Francisco company that made the robot, said, “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.”
The robot can scan an aisle in about 90 seconds, that’s a fraction of the time it would take a human to do. It doesn’t get bored, distracted and presumably, doesn’t make mistakes. The goal: fewer empty shelves, and better selection.
Sounds like something a robot is well suited to.
Walmart is testing the robot in 50 stores, across four states.
Wow. So it’s pretty far along.
Walmart says they are freeing up their associates to provide better customer service. A Walmart employee said, “It’s not taking someone’s job. It’s designed to improve the job.”
So have people do what they are good, driving higher sales. Makes sense.
Espinoza is skeptical. She works at San Jose International Airport and says when automated checkout was introduced there, cashiers were laid off.
I agree. I’m skeptical that in the long term, automating tasks that people have been doing won’t result in some job losses. The goal is to improve profits, after all.
Walmart says it is still too early to say how the robots will impact their workforce. Tiffany Wilson with Walmart said, “So, it may change the types of jobs, because technology changes the types of jobs that we have. But nothing will replace customer service and human interaction and being with other people, and being serviced, by a human.”
I think this statement is disingenuous. Customer service will be eliminated, as long as consumers are willing to exchange reduced human interaction for reduced costs. Doubtless it will be a slow process, as people will balk if changes come too quickly, but changes there will be.