AI News, Walmart experiments with AI to monitor stores in real time

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, 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 officially opened its Intelligent Retail Lab inside a 50,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market grocery store on Long Island.Thousands of cameras suspended from the ceiling, combined with other technology like sensors on shelves, will monitor the store in real time so workers can quickly replenish products or fix other problems.The technology will also be able to spot spills, track when shelves need to be restocked and know when shopping carts are running low.

Cameras, for example, can determine how ripe bananas are from their color, and workers will get an alert on their phone if they need to be replaced.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.That's put more pressure on Walmart and other traditional retailers like Kroger and Albertsons to pour money into technology in their stores.

In its latest fiscal year ended Jan. 31, Walmart generated more than $500 billion in overall sales globally.Walmart hopes to start scaling some of the new technology at other stores in the next six months, with an eye toward lower costs and thus lower prices.

As the shopping experience improves, the retailer expects to see higher sales.'We really like to think of this store as an artificial intelligence factory, a place where we are building these products, experiences, where we are testing and learning,' said Mike Hanrahan, CEO of Walmart's Intelligent Retail Lab and co-founder of Jet.com, purchased by Walmart three years ago.Hanrahan says the cameras are programmed to focus primarily on the products and shelves right now.

Sensors embedded in shelves will give the store extra information because they know what's at the back of the shelves that the cameras can't see.Cameras do not recognize faces, determine the ethnicity of a person picking up a product or track the movement of shoppers, he says.Some other companies have recently started experimenting with store shelf cameras that try to guess shoppers' ages, genders and moods.There are signs throughout the Neighborhood Market educating shoppers about how it is being used as a lab.

Go App, which lets customers scan items as they shop and then buy from their phones, skipping the checkout line.The retail lab is the third project from Walmart's new incubation arm, created after the Jet.com acquisition as a way for the discounter to shape the future of retail.It follows the launch of Jetblack, a shopping by text service aimed at affluent shoppers in New York.

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 officially opened its Intelligent Retail Lab inside a 50,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market grocery store on Long Island.

Technology is moving rapidly - what is on the horizon?

The robots are coming...Some great examples of robotics that are commercially available to work in industrial and ag situations: Making better use of data…all businesses can make better use of their data but we rarely find the time.

In agriculture, Australian firm, The Yield (http://www.theyield.com) help farmers make better sense of weather and management information by using a mesh-networked array of sensors across a farm to improve on the accuracy weather forecasts and make better decisions - very clever stuff.

Ceres (https://www.cerestag.com) has developed an innovative ear tag for cattle that uses a combination of satellite and RFID technology to allow graziers to make better management decisions on their cattle.

If you are unsure about whether AI will have an impact on our businesses in the future then watch this simple example of Google Assistant interacting using natural speech Blockchain…for the last few years blockchain has been the answer to everything but is proving very slow to deliver.

Local Processing - Given the strong drive for provenance amongst consumers (understanding where your food comes from), opportunities to process products locally and deliver to a local consumer base will continue to grow.

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

Walmart, which faces fierce competition from Amazon and other online retailers, is experimenting with digitizing its physical stores to manage them more ...

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 ...

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 launches 'intelligent' lab in Long Island to monitor stores

Who's minding the store? In the not-too-distant future it could be cameras and sensors that can tell almost instantly when bruised bananas need to be swapped ...

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