With so many industries moving toward replacing human workers with robots, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Walmart is doing the opposite.
The company has in recent years done much to automate tasks across its burgeoning business, but a Wall Street Journal report this week suggests that in some areas it’s had a rethink, booting out a number of its robots in the process.
According to the Journal, the retail giant has stopped using the six-foot-tall, inventory-tracking robots because the company has suddenly found that “humans can help get similar results.”
The autonomous robots have been trundling along shopping aisles in about 500 Walmart stores for the last few years, scanning items on the shelves to ensure they stay fully stocked.
But with the pandemic prompting more customers to shop online, the company now has more of its human workers on aisles, picking and packing. The workers’ increased presence made it easy for them to track the amount of stock on shelves, the Journal’s report said, enabling store staff to replenish supplies as and when required.
Walmart partnered with Pennsylvania-based Bossa Nova Robotics to deploy the robots, but that contract has reportedly now come to an end.
The Journal said Bossa Nova Robotics, which emerged from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2005, laid off around half of its workforce after its Walmart contract finished, with the tech company now focusing on new software initiatives.
Digital Trends has reached out to both companies for more details on the situation and we will update this article when we hear back.
While Walmart may have given its inventory robots the boot, the company certainly hasn’t turned its back on cutting-edge technology to help improve the efficiency of its business.
Two years ago, for example, Walmart began to test autonomous “robot janitors” designed to clean store floors, and the company has also been trailing the use of technology to help fulfill online orders more quickly. And just last month, Walmart launched its latest Blendid kiosk inside one of its stores that uses an autonomous robot to whip up a fresh made-to-order smoothie, with customers able to place an order via their smartphones.
Whether any of these robots will be given their marching orders in favor of human workers remains to be seen.
- Say hello to Boston Dynamics’ newest robot: Stretch
- Exoskeletons with autopilot: A peek at the near future of wearable robotics
- Meet the Xenobots: Living, biological machines that could revolutionize robotics
- The future of retail: Do robots, A.I., and AR spell demise for stores?
- Meet Digit: The ostrich-legged robot that might one day deliver you packages