Walmart tests self-driving robot that scans shelves for stock checks

Walmart has started using autonomous robots that patrol its stores scanning the shelves to take stock of inventory.

The nearly two metre tall robot uses lidar and video cameras to navigate around stores in a similar fashion to driverless cars, albeit at much slower speeds. The robot only travels at roughly 3km an hour.

It comes equipped with artificial intelligence that can understand which products are on the shelves and which need restocking.

It can also avoid obstacles and figure out alternative routes around the store if its predetermined patrol is obstructed.

The developers Bossa Nova Robotics are also working with three other national retailers in the US to test the technology.

“If you think about trying to go through a facility with all these different [items] and figure out if your prices are accurate, it can be very time-consuming,” John Crecelius, Walmart’s vice president of central operations, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“From our perspective, when you’re doing things like this you’re trying to improve your service to your customers and trying to make things simpler and easier for your associates at the same time.”

As always concerns over job losses arise when technology like this is used in the workplace to carry out a job that would have once been done by a human.

Addressing this, Tiffany Wilson, a Walmart executive, said: “They’re looking for out-of-stock items, prices that are incorrect, items that are not zoned properly, they’re in the wrong place.

“Then [Walmart employees] are able to more effectively restock those shelves, re-merchandise those shelves. A robot’s never gonna be good at that.”

In January a report found that one in five existing jobs in Britain are likely to be displaced by 2030 as a result of automation and globalisation, amounting to 3.6 million jobs in total. 

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