Walmart appears to be going all-in on robots, as The Wall Street Journal reports today that the retail giant is adding a host of robots to the front and back of more than a thousand of its stores.
A big beneficiary of Walmart’s automation push is Bossa Nova, makers of the shelf-scanning robot, which roams up and down aisles checking inventory levels. The company first launched in roughly 50 Walmart stores back in October of 2017, and that number will now scale up to 300 locations.
Walmart is also deploying autonomous floor scrubbers made by Brain Corp. at 1,500 locations and will double the use of automated systems to scan and sort products coming off of trucks to 600 stores.
When Walmart first started using the shelf-scanning robot, it said that it was interested in using robots for tasks that are “repeatable, predictable, and manual.” The company also added that the shelf-scanning robots were “50 percent more productive than humans” at the job. Walmart told The Journal that this new robot implementation will reduce the amount of time it takes to do those tasks (shelf inventory management, cleaning) and will also cut down on the number of people needed to do them. However, Walmart went on to say that these additional robots will free up the workforce to do other (presumably higher-skilled) tasks, and that the company is hiring on its e-commerce side as it wages a grocery battle with Amazon.
In the coming years, you’ll be just as likely to find a robot in your grocery aisle as you will a radishes. All the major grocery chains are getting into the robot game: Ahold Delhaize just ordered 500 floor roaming robots to spot spills, Albertsons is building out a robotic micro-fulfillment center, and Kroger is expanding its delivery by self-driving car.
For Walmart, this massive robot rollout could be just the tip of the iceberg; the retail giant is also eyeing Flippy as robotic fry cook for its deli, and has received a patent for a robot shopping cart.
While this type of news from Walmart and other grocers will reinforce fears over robots taking all the human jobs, it’s actually more complicated than that. There are some jobs robots are better suited for, and I was speaking with a major grocery retailer earlier this month who said that it’s actually hard to find human workers who want a job in grocery stores these days.
The subject of automation is a tricky one, which is why we are holding our ArticulATE food robot summit next week, on April 16 in San Francisco. We will be chatting about how robots are transforming grocery both in-store and for delivery, and how robots will work alongside with, and yes, even replace some humans. It promises to be a great day of discussion, but tickets are almost gone, so grab yours today!