TECHNOLOGY

Walmart pilots ‘first-of-its-kind’ robotics system

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart is adding a new member to its online grocery fulfillment team — but it’s not an associate.

Walmart is set to launch a pilot, in collaboration with start-up Alert Innovation, that uses “first-of-its-kind” automated technology to help associates fill online grocery orders faster than ever before. The system, called “Alphabot,” — developed specifically for the chain — will automatically bring items from storage to associates who will consolidate the items in the order.

The technology, which will launch by the end of the year, will be tested at a Walmart supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire, coinciding with the store’s re-grand opening. A 20,000-sq.-ft. extension connected to the store will house the system, and also include a dedicated grocery pickup point with drive-thru lanes for customers.

Once Alphabot has finished picking merchandise, automated mobile carts will retrieve the items, which will be stored warehouse-style in the store’s new extended space, and deliver them to associates at one of four pick stations. Walmart personal shoppers will then pick, assemble and deliver orders to customers.

“The vast majority of grocery products we offer in-store will be fulfilled through this system, though our personal shoppers will still handpick produce and other fresh items,” stated Mark Ibbotson, executive VP of central operations, Walmart U.S., in a blog on the company’s website.

The robotic system will reduce the time associates spend walking the store aisles in search of products and fulfilling orders, Walmart said.

“With the aid of Alphabot, our associates will have more time to focus on service and selling, the two things they often tell us are the most enjoyable part of the job, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks,” Ibbotson said. “Although this is a small pilot, we expect big things from it.”

In addition to Alphabot, other new technology will be implemented in the remodeled store, including the chain’s pick-up tower for online orders and an automated shelf-scanner that helps identify out-of-stock items, incorrect pricing and missing labels.

Alphabot is not Walmart’s first foray into robotics. The discount giant is using a shelf-scanning robot at store-level to detect out-of-stock items, incorrect prices and wrong or missing labels.

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