More robots: Walmart introduces thousands of machines to operate in its stores

    Shelf Robot Scanner - Right

    Walmart employs even more robots as a labor force. Last week, the company announced an increase in its headquarters of “automated assistants”. They will help the company cope with all the "trivial" tasks, such as cleaning floors, issuing orders to check labels and tracking the location of goods on the shelves. Thousands of robots and special turrets go to work in the coming months. This is the biggest robot in the history of this largest supermarket chain in the world. But industry experts are worried that there is no room for people at all.

    The first to go to work are cleaning robots, code-named "Auto-C (from" Cleaner "?), Presented at the end of last year . They themselves determine the best way to clean the floor of supermarkets, so they no longer need the employee who used to drive them.

    Now, one passage throughout the store takes an average of two hours per person. The car will be much slower (five to six hours), since serious speed limits are imposed on it: 3-4 km / h to guarantee the absence of any accidents. Then, as the autopilot proves its reliability and accuracy, speed will probably increase.

    Previously, during the testing period, security guards walked around the store with every cleaning robot. Now Walmart has made sure that they are not needed. The audience quickly gets used to the update, and does not even notice that no one is sitting behind their cleaning machine. If necessary, she softly beeps, warning customers, and if someone decides to climb on it or break something, a siren starts yelling, and supermarket security quickly runs to the robot.

    Floor cleaning is not the only task of these machines. Front, back, and sides, sensors are built into them that transmit information to Walmart servers. Machine learning, deep learning and computer vision help you figure out which path through the store will be most effective. It takes into account the length of the route, the time of cleaning, the likelihood of a collision with visitors and the total energy consumption of the route. As a result, each subsequent lap the car does a little more efficient than the previous one. And yet - she never misses a dirty stain, and works much more accurately than any cleaning man with 40 years of experience.

    These machines are created in collaboration with Brain Corp. In December, after the first round of tests, Walmart announced that it was going to introduce 360 ​​of these robots by February-2019. Now, apparently, the cars have proven their effectiveness. The company decided to install another 1,500 devices this year, so the total figure will go up to 1860. This means that more than a third of Walmart supermarkets will now be cleaned using robots.

    The company also expands the number of “Auto-S” shelf scanners (apparently from “Scanner”). These cars have been tested by her since 2017. Then she installed them in 50 of her stores, now she adds 300 more. These devices, which are rather strange in shape, like mailboxes with a long, long arm, spend most of their time at the charging station. But when an employee gives them the task - to check stocks of goods in a warehouse, identify incorrectly indicated products on shelves, check labels or price tags - they are sent to scan shelves. Work is still slower than a person who can quickly run through everything with his eyes. But zero errors.

    Sargun Scuff, the founder of the startup Bossa Nova , responsible for these robots, says in an interview:

    If you think about it, what can you name the latest innovation that happened in stores? I can only remember self-checkout counters and barcodes. Retailers have always been very accurate with product tracking - from the manufacturer, in containers, through customs, through a warehouse or distribution center. But when the product hits the store, it's like a black box. No one will say for sure whether there is a theft or whether each product lies in its place. And checking every product is a dull task.

    People are now needed only to give the command to the robot. And they themselves can fix more important problems or spend time with customers, improving the atmosphere in the store.

    Walmart also introduces smart conveyor shippers that can take goods from trucks and send them to the right places in the warehouse. The company calls them FAST Unloaders. The conveyor with sensors itself determines what exactly goes along it, and this speeds up the shipment process by several tens of times.

    Unloading goods, the company says, was one of its employees' least favorite jobs, so it was difficult for her to keep people in that position. Last summer, the company tested 30 shipment machines, and the experiment was so successful that it began to add 10 every week. Now in supermarkets will install another 1200 of these smart conveyors, bringing the total to 1700.

    We have already talked about Pickup Towers, an online shopping machine . They were also actively tested last year - they helped fight Amazon, making it easier to issue online orders. Delivery cost - $ 0 for orders from $ 30. You pick up the parcel in any Walmart store where such a tower stands, you only need a smartphone with a bar code. In 2017, 200 of these machines were installed for issuing online purchases, in 2018 - another 500. Now the company adds another 900, bringing the total number to 1600. If you show your device your smartphone, you get a package.

    The company says that all of these technologies will help free employees from “the most boring and constantly repeating tasks,” and give them more time to support customers face-to-face. But, of course, everyone says that now. In fact, the list of works left for real people is not impressive. Security guards and cashiers (and only because the company does not yet have its own Amazon Go technology , although Microsoft is working hard together).

    Responding to reporters, the company also said that it would have plenty of work for people ... in the selection of fruits and vegetables! That is, the separation of old and rotten tangerines from young and fresh. Walmart says that groceries are now responsible for more than half of its annual revenue, and this area is particularly actively developing online, so there will be plenty of work here. And robots are now installed where the company already has problems with recruiting personnel, and where the biggest turnover was.

    A Walmart spokesman says:

    So far, we see that the introduction of technology reduces labor turnover. We remove the most unloved types of occupations. Not a whole post is automated, but only a certain most primitive part of it. Otherwise, the person remains necessary, moreover, he frees up time to do something more interesting, such as customer service.


    Over the past year and a half, we have added more than 40,000 jobs in the selection of fruits and vegetables in supermarkets for online orders. Until recently, these posts simply did not exist. Result: more and more employees stay with us for a long time, staff turnover is the lowest in the last decade.

    For employees, this sounds very disappointing. Currently, 1.5 million people work at Walmart, this is one of the main employers in the United States. And few people have doubts that they will try to automate the next fruit selection work. It is unlikely to be much more complicated than defining a conveyor product. But the drop in turnover is not a symptom of the fact that people have less and less choice, and any work is better than none?

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