In the last few years, Walmart has introduced a few different robots that can assist human employees by taking over some of the more repetitive and/or precise tasks they do in the stores. One such robot has been the autonomous scanner, which scans the stock on shelves to determine what needs restocking, ordering, and correct re-placement on the shelves*. Another innovation has been storage and retrieval robotics for the grocery pickup service. Now, they are also using autonomous robots to mop the floors.
San Diego-based Brain Corp created the robotic janitors that can clean floors and navigate around customers. In December 2018, CEO Eugene Izhikevich told Bloomberg that “We can take anything that has wheels and turn it into a fully autonomous robot, provided that it can go slow and stopping is never a safety concern. And it’s more than just navigation. It is to robots what Android operating system is to smartphones.”
Brain’s robots are equipped with a unique software, BrainOS, to achieve autonomy in the store. The machine can perform the floor cleaning after a human “trains” it (runs through the layout of the space in need of cleaning) just once. It is also equipped with cameras, sensors, and LiDAR to help it maneuver down aisles and around obstacles. All of the autonomous navigation and data collection abilities are uploaded to a cloud-based reporting system.
Walmart understands the role robots can fill in completing the repetitive tasks humans don’t want to do, freeing up humans to provide better customer service instead. They are intent on experimenting with technology to find success in a future where the retail environment is more than just a big box.
*Walmart ended their contract with manufacturer Bossa Nova Robotics in November of 2020. They did not release a reason to the press, but said they would be going back to assigning this task to human workers. How’s that for a twist?
Reality Changing Observations:
1. What other retail companies are experimenting with robots?
2. What are some other ways brick and mortar stores can use robots to increase efficiency?
3. What do the robots of Walmart have to do to get their own website like people of Walmart?