Miami's Walmart Supercenter is among select sites now equipped with a scanning robot to help manage inventory.
MIAMI – A trip to the local Walmart Supercenter now offers a glimpse into the future of retail thanks to a new robotic team member.
The units, produced by California-based Bossa Nova Robotics, were deployed at a handful of Walmart sites last year in California, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania and are currently deployed at approximately 50 additional stores across the country, including Miami's Walmart Supercenter at 2415 N. Main Street.
Standing at about two-feet tall with an attached extending tower that can reach over 6-feet in height, the scanning robot stays idle and charging until it deploys during a designated schedule to check aisles.
"Right now, in the Miami store, the robot runs once a day only during the weekdays, and it goes from about 6 to 9 a.m. and scans in the dry grocery and consumables area," said Anne Hatfield, Director of Communications, Walmart Public Affairs.
The robot scans its assigned aisles and gathers data on restock needs, mislabels, and product misplacements. It does this by capturing images of store shelves with cameras while also scanning them using LiDAR (light imaging, detection, and ranging).
The data is analyzed by the robot's AI to calculate the status of each product and then filters that information back to Walmart associates.
"Access to data is the foundation of a truly seamless omnichannel retail business," said Martin Hitch, Chief Business Officer at Bossa Nova, in an issued press release. "Our solution provides visibility into on-shelf inventory and helps the retailers improve store operations to better serve their customers, whether in-store or for online pickup. Walmart is retail's innovation leader and we're excited to be a part of their advanced technology initiative."
Walmart Supercenters manage hundreds of thousands of products within an expansive retail space. Managing inventory on that scale is extremely costly in terms of time, but in utilizing a robotic scanning unit, product audits are done faster and restocks are made simpler.
The result is establishing a more efficient stocking system and improved customer service, according to Hatfield.
"The robot will actually result in better customer service and more human interaction. The robot will do some of the tedious and time-consuming tasks, and be able to do that much more quickly, so what it does is frees up our associates to then spend more time with customers, answering questions and helping them on the floor," said Hatfield.
She also pointed out that use of the technology will improve the process of making certain the products customers want are stocked and available.
"When they come to an aisle looking for a specific product, it's there, because the robot has been able to scan the shelves and get that data and let us know what is out of stock or if there is a label that's wrong or anything," said Hatfield. "It speeds up that process, so at the end of the day, we're serving customers better because the products that they want are there and everything is labeled correctly."
The robots also use LiDAR to navigate their surroundings, creating a real-time map of the area as they go to detect people and objects, moving around them or waiting and resuming a task as necessary. This allows the units to work safely and seamlessly in a busy shopping environment.
"A store is a busy place, so we know how important it is that our robot has a sense of its surroundings. That’s why it can detect objects in an aisle, like boxes, your cart, even you!" reads part of the product description on the Bossa Nova website. "It will wait for you to pass and then keep scanning the shelves when all is clear."
As the robotic unit's transition from the testing phase to full integration at selected Walmart sites, their functions will become fully autonomous, and according to Hatfield, goals are set to expand their scanning duties to more areas of the stores.
"It will be on a schedule and self-sustaining. Right now it's just in dry groceries and consumables, the long-term plan is to have it be able to scan other parts of the store as well," said Hatfield.
The implementation of the technology is viewed by Walmart as an important part of meeting the rapidly changing retail experience needs of associates and customers.
"Customer habits and shopping expectations are changing at an incredibly fast pace," said Hatfield. "As technology changes the workplace, we want to partner with our associates to make sure that we are empowering them to be able to deliver for our customers, and this is one example."
The robots deployed to test sites are there to stay, Hatfield confirmed. Which means shoppers at Miami's Walmart Supercenter are not only among the first waves of consumers to benefit from the technology but can also look forward to having the advanced retail tool long-term.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.