Walmart unveils its Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), the store of the future, to try-out emerging Artificial intelligence technologies such as cameras and immersive displays. The technology is currently deployed at Walmart’s busiest neighborhood market store located in Levittown, N.Y. The company states that considering the fact that the store contains over 30,000 products, it can test the new technology in a real-world environment.
The concept may sound similar to Amazon’s Go but not really – while Go is a range of Grab-and-Go stores, Walmart’s facility is a sprawling 50,000 sq.ft staffed with more than 100 employees. Also, the main difference is that Walmart is leveraging the technology not to charge customers but to flag their staff about inventory levels in the store.
Walmart’s idea behind this AI implementation is that the company wants to make it easy for their employees to know which shelf needs to be re-stocked. This is also beneficial for customers who would be assured of the freshness of perishable items such as meat, poultry, dairy, etc.
Walmart states that it is not as simple as it sounds. Automated systems will have to recognize the exact product along with the weight/quantity, compare it with a rising/dropping sales demand and then indicate the staff. This helps the staff avoid a lot of manual work, in terms of stock supervision and walking around shelves in-turn allowing them to know what to get when even before the store opens and to interact a lot more with customers.
The AI infrastructure extracts 1.6 Terabytes of data per second forcing Walmart to set up an on-premise Big Data facility, which, it has done. In this store’s case, the center is a glass-encased, visible to the public and bathed in blue light structure. While this arrangement may bring doubts in the minds of consumers (huge servers and smart cameras), Walmart says that they are only storing one week’s worth of data. Consumers can take a step forward and check out informational stations about this technology located in the store along with a welcome center where customers can know the nitty-gritty of the technology along with FAQs. The store also has an AI wall where customers can have fun and know how body positioning works.
“Technology enables us to understand so much more – in real time – about our business,” says Mike Hanrahan, CEO of IRL. “When you combine all the information we’re gathering in IRL with Walmart’s 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates.”
“You can’t be overly enamored with the shiny object element of AI,” Hanrahan said. “There are a lot of shiny objects out there that are doing things we think are unrealistic to scale and probably, long-term, not beneficial for the consumer.”
After the initial inventory level AI implementation is a 100% success, Walmart’s roadmap is to use this technology to check if there are enough shopping carts or if the check-out counters are properly staffed.