Walmart and…Robots?


Walmart has been in the news a few times over the past week or so regarding their investment in robotics and innovation.  I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the “sexy” innovation coming from firms like Tesla and miss out on some real, impactful innovation coming from a retailer like Walmart.  So, I’ll provide a quick walkthrough in this post of the couple robots that caught my eye.

I’ll lead with the innovation that is currently operational today:  robots roaming the aisles in 50 stores around the US.  Walmart has new, robotic employees that roam the aisles of the store three times per day to identify the stock of items, items placed in the wrong spot, incorrect prices, and missing labels.   As the robot identifies issues, it sends alerts to the store personnel to address.

Streamlining this process, per Walmart, allows their human personnel to spend more time helping customers.  However, I think the real value here is in the efficiency and automation gains when it comes to product and purchasing behavior.  When connected properly, this could provide more accurate in-store estimates for those looking to set up an in-store pickup while also alerting employees when more stock needs to be brought out from the back of the store.  Also, given that location services on the robots would be available, Walmart could begin to update their digital shelves based upon which products are selling more in specific regions throughout the US.  Furthermore, being able to analyze the consumption of merchandise could help inform Walmart on where it can scale back inventory or simplify the number of options in a particular category.

The second innovation comes a bit out of left field and is part of a larger investment that Walmart is making in the farming industry with drones.  The most interesting of these investments, from my perspective, is that Walmart has filed a patent for autonomous bees.  For those of you “Black Mirror” fans, this is probably terrifying.  However, I think this is a very promising idea given the endangered nature of bees around the world and how much of an impact the loss of bees would have on food production.

While Walmart is not the first to look at creating robotic bees, they do seem to be the most capable to make an investment in this area and grow it quickly.  The patent identifies that these bees would not only be able to pollinate like real bees, but they’d also have a camera on them that could identify which crops need more pollinating than others.  They also will have sensors on them to confirm that the pollination process was successful.

Given all of the investment in farming, you’d have to think that Walmart is looking for ways to lessen the costs of food production for their stores while also looking to automate that process as much as possible given the environmental challenges we are faced with.  Both of the innovations in this post would, in theory, generate a more positive customer experience;  something that I discussed in a recent episode of Analytics Neat.

What do you think of these innovations?  Are there any others you are seeing in the marketplace that you are excited about?

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