Walmart abandons plan to have robots check store inventories

Steve Dent
·Associate Editor
·1-min read

Much as Elon Musk did with his Tesla Model 3 factory, Walmart has discovered that robots can’t necessarily displace humans. The retail giant has decided scrap plans to use them to automate inventory tracking after finding that people could do as good a job, according to the WSJ.

Back in 2017, Walmart started testing the fully autonomous bots made by Bossa Nova Robotics in around 50 stores. They can scan multiple items at a time, and much like self-driving cars, use 3D imaging to dodge obstacles, while keeping track of areas that need to be revisited.The idea was that they’d check stock levels, pricing and misplaced items, relieving the load on human staff and reducing labor costs.

However, as COVID-19 lockdowns shifted sales online, Walmart found that workers collecting online deliveries from shelves could also gather inventory data. Now, Walmart plans to use those folks to monitor levels and locations, essentially making the robots redundant (and proving that turnabout is fair play). On top of that, CEO John Furner was concerned about how shoppers might react and interact with robots in stores.

Robots still have their place in stores with Roomba-like floor scrubbers, for example. And while the inventory robots didn’t work out, the company said the experiment was still worthwhile. “We learned a lot about how technology can assist associates, make jobs easier and provide a better customer experience,” a spokesperson told the WSJ.