FACILITIES

Walmart streamlines floor cleaning

BY Dan Berthiaume

Walmart is literally dragging robotic technology into the dirt.

The discount giant is streamlining the process of cleaning store floors with the use of autonomous floor scrubbers powered by the BrainOS computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) platform from BrainCorp. The rollout of self-piloting floor scrubbers in 360 stores is part of a larger Walmart effort to achieve operational efficiency while satisfying shoppers.

“We have reviewed every position in our stores and made changes to numerous procedures, processes and technologies to simplify the work and remove complexity, allowing our associates to spend more time serving customers,” said Ragan Dickens, director of corporate communications at Walmart.

This particular project integrates BrainOS software into Walmart floor cleaning machines, turning them into autonomous robots. The scrubbers use “assisted autonomy” technology, meaning they require initial direction from a human associate before being put into autonomous mode. Walmart obtains the machines with BrainOS functionality built in by a third-party provider.

Associates working with the machines initially prep the area to be cleaned by sweeping and dusting. They will also manually scrub tight areas, such as between registers, where the machines cannot fit. An associate then assigns a pre-programmed route for the scrubber to follow as it cleans the floors with an easy-to-learn user interface from BrainCorp. BrainOS includes a navigation stack providing advanced self-driving capabilities for cluttered and busy indoor environments.

The scrubber provides feedback via a cloud-based reporting system, so the associate knows if a section of the route did not get cleaned for some reason and needs to be reworked. Associates can reprogram routes as store floor layouts are changed.

Phil Duffy, VP of innovation at BrainCorp., said safety is the “number one concern” of BrainOS developers.

“Artificial intelligence enables the machine to know where it is in space and recognize change,” he stated. “If a person or a box is in the way, it will move around if there is enough space. If the aisle is blocked, the machine will determine how to deal with the situation. It will cut the aisle out of the route if necessary.”

According to Dickens, Walmart associates are using automated floor scrubbers to be more productive, complete their work, and be more available to customers.

“This is another example of technology helping make the Walmart job better,” he added. “Rather than riding on this machine, associates are now working with robotics to complete their duties and are more available to help other associates and customers.”

Free up employees: Dickens described how automated floor scrubbers also allow maintenance associates to focus on additional duties outside of cleaning the main floors. These include taking care of restrooms and emptying trash receptacles.

“We view this machine as an assistance to the associate,” said Dickens. “We simply don’t have an associate who just rides the machine for the entirety of their shift. Riding the machine is a portion of a larger role. By introducing the machine, the associates are able to complete the other tasks within their assigned roles.”

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