Walmart Opens First AI-Driven Store
The other day, the largest supermarket chain in the United States introduced what it calls the "store of the future." A large supermarket operating in Levittown, New York, immediately using dozens of advanced technologies. Including - interactive displays and cameras connected to an artificial intelligence system. Hundreds of millions of dollars - so that customers never come across a stale product.
The company calls the new test supermarket Intelligent Retail Lab (for short - IRL). Here is a very rich assortment: IRL sells 30,000 products. The space is also quite large: 4,500 square meters, much more than the average supermarket. At the same time, only 100 employees (cashiers, security guards and shelf fillers) work in all such a shopping center. This is one of the main advantages of IRL: the human factor is minimal.
Like the "cash-free" Amazon Go , the store is strewn with a mass of cameras mounted on the ceiling. But the area here is ten times larger, and the store’s tasks are different. The AI in the cameras is not configured to identify products that buyers pick up, but to track inventory on shelves. The store sees that today it flies like pies, and can give a signal to send a person to fill the shelf. Also, artificial intelligence takes into account the shelf life of goods and remembers how long he saw a particular object sitting on a shelf. When the shelf life of the product comes to an end - again, the system lets employees know. And IRL can do this even for meat and vegetables, the shelf life of which is not prescribed for them.
As a result, even a few dozen employees, receiving instructions from the AI, can maintain the entire huge supermarket in perfect condition. They always know which shelf to go to. Customers, according to Walmart's idea, will appreciate that the products here are always fresh, plus you can pay people significantly less. The company claims that for its workforce this is also a great solution: instead of constantly being on their feet, running between the shelves and checking what is missing, now they will know in advance what they need to carry.
Machine vision in IRL can do the same thing as in Amazon Go. The computer sees what kind of product is on the shelf, distinguishes its quantity, checks the speed with which it leaves, makes projections (will it be enough until the end of the day?). Cameras and other store sensors generate 1.6 TB of data per second. To analyze such a volume of information, a data center with 100 servers is located in the same room. It is protected by glass, highlighted in blue and put on public display.
In order to avoid accusations of violating the privacy of customers, Walmart says that all the video accumulated by the cameras is deleted after a week, and the system does not see any faces at all (instead of them - a blurry spot).
The store also tests a host of other technologies. Information terminals on the shelves help customers find out about the products that they buy here (where they are released, what they contain, what recipes they use ...). At the entrance to the store there are stands where you can read about the features of IRL and get answers to many common questions. There is an interactive wall showing your “shadow” when you pass by it (in fact, this is an AI that reads your camera image and predicts where you will be moving the next moment). And the floor in the room is washed by special cleaning robots , also with the support of artificial intelligence.
For several years, Walmart's top management has been trying to surpass (or at least catch up) with Amazon in everything. Previously, they redesigned their entire online store - and now in the last year it became the third most popular in the States, after Amazon and eBay (and we also see that they began to order from us through Russia more often in it, it’s already in the top 5 ) In India, having outbid Amazon, Walmart paid $ 15 billion for Flipkart last year . Instead of AWS, it signed a contract with Microsoft Azure. And now - now, instead of Amazon Go, they are trying to implement IRL stores.
The success of the first test sample will determine whether the same supermarkets will be opened in other cities and states. Walmart first of all checks the readiness of customers for such new technologies. If IRL scares moms and grandmothers with carts with their screens, cameras, and ubiquitous AI and shows sales lower than the same store six months before, Walmart will direct its efforts and money to another place - good, of ideas in its technology incubator ( Store No. 8 ) enough.
Mike Hanrahan, CEO of IRL stores, in his answers to reporters gives secretive nods to Bezos and his Amazon Go, talking about their excessive ambitiousness:
No need to be overly in love with the idea of AI. If there is technology, it is not necessary that it is suitable for your situation. There are many unrealistic projects that will not be able to scale, and, most importantly, will not be useful for buyers.
We may be more prosaic, but you can be sure that the store will always have fresh fruits and meat, so your shopping trip is guaranteed to be successful, and it costs a lot.