Walmart is expanding its use of robotics and artificial intelligence for "repeatable and predictable" tasks including scanning shelves for out of stock items, according to a company statement sent to sister publication Retail Dive. The retailer currently has robots in 350 stores across the United States.
With this expansion, Walmart is introducing the technology into an additional 650 Walmart locations in 2020 as part of a partnership with Bossa Nova and NCR corporation, according to a press release emailed to Retail Dive. That brings the robots to a total of 1,000 Walmart stores.
NCR's technology will be used to install, maintain and help the robots in Walmart stores as they perform tasks such as monitoring store shelves, according to a Bossa Nova statement.
Monday's announcement comes as a continuation of an effort announced last April that the retailer would introduce more robots into stores to conduct routine tasks such as cleaning floors, scanning shelves and unloading inventory. The approach, according to the company, will enable store employees to focus on other tasks and assist the retailer in improving its customer experience.
A Walmart spokesperson noted in an email that the expansion will allow associates "to focus on serving customers and addressing areas of the store with the most need." She also addressed the ever-present concern with robots entering physical retail: that they will replace human jobs. "We truly look at these robots as assistants to the associates and their jobs," she said.
For now, Walmart has said that the response from associates has been positive. However, a 2017 report from Cornerstone Capital Group estimated that automation could wipe out between 6 million and 7.5 million retail jobs. In the meantime, retailers looking to implement AI and autonomous machines need to reckon with what that technology means for their human workforce.