Walmart officially took the wraps off its new high-tech store today, which features thousands of cameras powering computer vision and an AI platform that monitors in-store inventory in real time.
Located in the Levittown, NY Walmart store, the Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL)(har, har) sounds a lot like Amazon Go–lots of cameras built into the store constantly monitoring products on the shelves–but there are some key differences.
First, Walmart’s computer vision application is just for inventory management, so no cashierless checkout for now. Instead, the cameras watch when an item is gone from a shelf and notify a worker to replenish the item quickly. According to the AP, which got a look at the store, the cameras can also detect spills and sees when shopping carts are running low.
Second, Walmart is already running IRL at scale. The New York store is 50,000 square feet, compared to the roughly 2,000 – 3,000 square feet of Amazon Go stores. The difference, though, as noted earlier, is that while IRL may be able to monitor inventory on shelves at scale, it’s not doing cashierless payments…yet. Walmart told the AP that it’s not currently using the technology to track movements of shoppers or for facial recognition, though it’s hard to imagine Walmart developing and deploying all this technology just to make sure there isn’t a gap in the Cheerios display.
Walmart’s launch of IRL will probably turn up the heat on rival grocers to implement their own such systems so they can achieve similar efficiencies. Thankfully, there are a ton of startups like Trigo Vision, Grabango, Standard Cognition and AWM looking to outfit stores with banks of cameras and AI for cashierless checkout and inventory management.
IRL also comes just weeks after Walmart announced it was expanding its use of shelf scanning robots to manage inventory. Those robots seem to be more of a stopgap measure as Walmart works out any bugs IRL encounters as it runs IRL (in real life).
Regardless, IRL, with all its high-tech cameras and AI gives us a (computer) vision into the retailer’s future.