Walmart is piloting yet another robot in its quest to add automation to its operation to better compete with Amazon and other e-tailers. The Walmart Alphabot, which the world’s largest retailer developed in conjunction with Alert Innovation, will be installed in a 20,000-square foot extension connected to the Walmart in Salem, N.H.
The Walmart Alphabot, essentially, is an automated goods-to-person solution similar to what you’d see from OPEX, for example. The robot retrieves items ordered online from storage and brings them to Walmart employees. Walmart says Alphabot can pick up the “vast majority” of items, including dry and refrigerated goods and frozen items.
Walmart’s personal shoppers still need to handpick produce and other fresh items. The Walmart Alphabot will be up and running by the end of 2018, the company says. However, shoppers at the Salem store will be able to order groceries online for pick-up beginning October 1, 2018 to see how the Walmart Alphabot performs.
The Walmart Alphabot program follows Kroger’s partnership with UK-based online supermarket Ocado, which has robots that can pack a 50-item grocery order in a matter of minutes. And Boxed, a NJ-based online retailer, uses Opex’s Perfect Pick system.
Walmart announced earlier this year that it will expand its online grocery delivery service to more than 40 percent of U.S. households by the end of 2018. But that comes with an added cost, of course, so the Walmart Alphabot is looking to make it more efficient for the company to fulfill the online orders from customers who don’t want to pay for delivery.
“Our online grocery service is already a huge hit with customers, allowing them to quickly and conveniently order groceries online, select a pickup time and have those groceries delivered to their car in minutes,” Mark Ibbotson, Executive Vice President of Central Operations, Walmart U.S., writes in a blog. “Alphabot will work behind the scenes to make the process even easier by automatically bringing items from storage to associates who will consolidate the items in the order. For our pickup associates, that means less time walking the store aisles in search of products and more time ensuring customers are getting the absolute best in fresh produce, meats, etc.”
Thanks to Walmart Alphabot, the company says its employees will have more time to focus on service and selling, which are the “two things they often tell us are the most enjoyable part of the job, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.”
Walmart Alphabot Joins a Growing Club
Walmart Alphabot joins a growing list of robots that the company has been testing. In late August 2018, Walmart partnered with Waymo to offer select people rides to and from the Walmart in Chandler, Ariz. The 400 members of Waymo’s early riders program can take a self-driving car ride when they order roceries from Walmart. They even get their own special parking spaces.
The retailer has also been working with Bossa Nova, rolling out its inventory scanning robots to 50 Walmart locations. These robots, which Walmart said will be present in the Salem store, help identify out-of-stock items, incorrect pricing and missing labels.
Walmart has also teased delivery drones for inside and outside of its stores. And in late 2017 it purchased 15 Tesla semi-trucks that do feature some Autopilot features that help the trucks drive themselves.
The Walmart Alphabot is admittedly only a small pilot at this point, but Ibbotson says “we expect big things from it.” Although robots probably can’t prevent a retail apocalypse.