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Walmart expands its use of shelf-scanning robots

The move is designed to up inventory efficiency and allow company workers more customer-facing time

Photo via Bossa Nova
Walmart’s beta test of shelf-scanning robots have gone so well that the big box retailer is broadening the initiative to 50 stores in four states, according to Business Insider.

If efficiency and customer service are king, then this is a smart move for Walmart. The robots roam the store’s aisles scanning shelves for mislabeled items, incorrect prices, out-of-stock items, or anything a customer may have put back in the wrong place.

The robots aren’t taking anyone’s job, either. Rather, the intent is to give Walmart workers a break from doing grunt work so they can focus on helping customers.

"This has largely been about how we improve our performance and improve our service to our customers," said John Crecelius, Walmart's vice president of innovation. "[Walmart employees] are usually at the forefront for helping us identify things that improve our business that we hadn't thought of."

Efficient and polite

Standing six feet tall, the robots will be hard to miss, and their work ethic is pretty darn impressive. Inside of two minutes, it can scan 80 feet of aisle space without bumping into anyone or anything -- like a shopping cart or a new display that it hadn’t encountered before. It’s polite, too. If a robot detects a customer is coming down the aisle, it will wait for them to pass before it continues scanning.

Crecelius says neither customers or workers have been put off by the robots, but are just simply curious. "People are just drawn to technology and what it does," he said. "Our associates naturally get drawn to: 'What is this going to provide, how can I use this in what I'm doing?'"

In its expanded test, two of the items on Walmart’s to-do list are to determine the best use of the data the robots churn out and find out the best times to run the robots. Right now, the robots are running their routes three times a day -- once in the morning, once at midday, and once in the evening.

The machines are the brainchild of Bossa Nova, a U.S. company on a mission to “make large-scale stores run efficiently by automating the collection and analysis of on-shelf inventory data.”

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