AI News, AP EXCLUSIVE: At Walmart, using AI to watch the store ... artificial intelligence

Bonney Lake Walmart’s robot zips along in tech revolution that’s raising big questions for workers

BONNEY LAKE, Pierce County — When an autonomous floor scrubber was rolled out in Walmart’s Bonney Lake store last month, shoppers mistook the teal blue scrubber zipping down the aisles for a runaway machine, said manager David Klein.

Last month the retail giant said it plans to spend $36 million on the remodeling of seven Washington stores, as well as the deployment of autonomous floor scrubbers, dozens of FAST unloaders akin to smart conveyor belts, and 16-foot-tall vending machines called pickup towers that dispense products ordered online.

Rivals such as Kroger and Seattle-based Amazon — which acquired Whole Foods in 2017 and launched a still-small chain of cashierless convenience stores called Amazon Go — have pushed Walmart to compete for customers by rolling out automated technology that offers convenience while keeping prices low.

According to a recent report by research firm CB Insights, “as the lines between physical and digital retail continue to blur,” retailers are increasingly experimenting with automated checkout technology, relying on AI to manage inventory and using brick-and-mortar stores as fulfillment centers for online orders.

She said the technology initiatives are automating tasks workers don’t want to do, and the company is “then upleveling their jobs, upleveling their skills and empowering our associates with technology so that they can then, in turn, serve our customers a lot better.” Labor-law expert Garden isn’t surprised that employee hours are increasing during the initial deployment of technology, when they need additional training.

Employees who now do those jobs might be redirected to do different things, including running and troubleshooting the machines, “or they might see their hours cut.” Rapid deployment of new technology can be “slow and painful,” and because “new tasks require new skills … a mismatch between skills and technologies is bound to complicate the adjustment process,” wrote MIT professor of economics Daron Acemoglu and Boston University assistant professor of economics Pascual Restrepo in a paper last year on “Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Work.” Andrea Dehlendorf, co-executive director of Organization United for Respect, a nonunion group of Walmart employees, fears that Walmart’s innovations will disempower workers.

She said technology could be introduced to help workers “really do the work, take care of the customers and do things better, but instead it is being introduced just to leverage cost savings instead of reinvesting that money in the workforce and paying the people who stay more.” The advocacy group did an online survey asking Walmart employees how they felt about the rollout of new technology and automation in their stores.

“We need to make sure that as technology is integrated into work that it’s doing it for the benefit of working people and that it’s doing it for the benefit of humans in our society, not just the … corporations or the shareholders.” Unionizing has historically provided the main avenue for employees to claim a stake in the transformation of their jobs, according to labor law professor Garden.

So ours becomes a symbiotic relationship — we find the problem, the human fixes the problem.” Kristi Branstetter, a Walmart employee in Blue Springs, Missouri, said a sense of paranoia has permeated the store following the introduction of a FAST unloader, pickup tower and shelf scanner several months ago.

Walmart experiments with AI to monitor stores in real time

In the not-too-distant future, it could be cameras and sensors that can tell almost instantly when bruised bananas need to be swapped for fresh ones and more cash registers need to open before lines get too long.Walmart is experimenting with digitizing its physical stores to manage them more efficiently, keep costs under control and make the shopping experience more pleasant.STORYLINE: Inside one of Walmart's busiest Neighborhood Market stores, high resolution cameras suspended from the ceiling point to a table of bananas and determine from their color how ripe they are.When a banana starts to bruise, it sends an alert to a worker to replenish.Normally that task would have been the subjective assessment of the worker, who likely wouldn't have time to inspect every banana.But now Walmart can rely on thousands of cameras hanging from the ceiling that track when products are running low or when produce or meat start to lose their freshness.These cameras are a key feature of a living lab that officially opens inside this 50,000-square-foot store Thursday (25 April).Walmart envisions using these cameras, combined with other technology like sensors on shelves  to get the best picture of what's going on in the store in real time so its workers can quickly react to replenish the products or fix other problems Mike Hanrahan, CEO of Walmart's Intelligent Retail Lab explains.

Walmart experiments with AI to monitor stores in real time

In the not-too-distant future it could be cameras and sensors that can tell almost instantly when bruised bananas need to be swapped for fresh ones and more cash registers need to open before lines get too long.

Walmart, which faces fierce competition from Amazon and other online retailers, is experimenting with digitizing its physical stores to manage them more efficiently, keep costs under control and make the shopping experience more pleasant. Last week, the retail giant opened its Intelligent Retail Lab inside a 50,000-sq.-ft. Neighborhood Market grocery store on Long Island.

READ: Riding the wave of convenience Thousands of cameras suspended from the ceiling, combined with other technology like sensors on shelves, will monitor the store in real time so its workers can quickly replenish products or fix other problems.

Walmart’s deep dive into artificial intelligence in its physical store comes as Amazon raised the stakes in the grocery business with its purchase of Whole Foods Market nearly two years ago.

Coming to store shelves: cameras that guess your age and mood Walmart’s online U.S. sales are still a fraction of Amazon’s online global merchandise empire, which reached US$122.98 billion last year.

A glass enclosed data centre at the back of the store houses nine cooling towers, 100 servers and other computer equipment that processes all the data.

Walmart turns store into "A.I. Factory"

(25 Apr 2019) Inside one of Walmart's busiest Neighborhood Market stores, high resolution cameras suspended from the ceiling point to a table of bananas and determine from their color how ripe they are.When a banana starts to bruise, that would send an alert to a worker to replenish.Normally,  that task would have been the subjective assessment of the worker, who likely wouldn't have time to inspect every banana.But now Walmart can rely on thousands of cameras  hanging from the ceiling that track when products are running low or when produce or meat start to lose their freshness.These cameras are a key feature of a living lab that officially opens inside this 50,000-square-foot store on Thursday.

In fact, behind a glass enclosed wall at the back of the store is a massive data center, where shoppers can see nine cooling towers, 100 servers and other computer equipment that process the 1.6 terra bytes of data per second _ roughly three years worth of music _ that is coming from cameras, and other equipment.

Amazon has been rolling out cashier-less Amazon Go stores, which has shelf sensors that  track the 1,000 products on its shelves.Walmart's online U.S. sales are still a fraction of Amazon's online global merchandise empire, which reached $122.98 billion last year.  To push online growth, Walmart has been rapidly expanding online services like curbside pickup of groceries.

Walmart turns store into "A.I. Factory"

(25 Apr 2019) Inside one of Walmart's busiest Neighborhood Market stores, high resolution cameras suspended from the ceiling point to a table of bananas and ...

Walmart experiments with AI to monitor stores in real time

(25 Apr 2019) LEADIN: Who's minding the store? In the not-too-distant future, it could be cameras and sensors that can tell almost instantly when bruised ...

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