Robots Track Inventory and Help Keep Shelves Stocked

Bossa Nova and NCR are setting up robots in 1,000 Walmart stores to help track inventory, so shelves can stay stocked and items are priced accurately. The six-foot-tall shelf scanners roam through aisles taking images and collecting data, so customers can purchase the supplies they need. 

 

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Image credit: David J. Phillip/AP Images

Big box retailers are seeing huge spikes in online and instore purchases as shoppers around the country stock up on groceries, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. At Walmart, online shoppers are downloading the mobile app faster than you can click “Buy.” By the beginning of April, the Walmart Grocery app was in the top spot for downloads across all shopping apps in rankings posted by App Annie. According to App Annie’s stats, the Walmart Grocery app experienced a 460% growth in downloads compared to its January 2020 performance.

As Walmart shoppers clear out inventory through app purchases or at the stores, a portion of the company’s stores are tracking stock with a fleet of robots from Bossa Nova. These shelf-scanning robots rely on lights, 2D and 3D cameras, sensors and edge processing to track inventory and report on what stock is running low.

Robot in Aisle 5

Walmart bought into robotics a few years ago, distributing six-foot-tall shelf-scanning robots at 350 of its stores. In early 2020, the retailer almost tripled its robot fleet size, bumping it up to 1,000 robot-assisted stores. The robots roam the aisles lighting up shelves and snapping photos. Working solo, one robot can capture images of an 80-feet-aisle in two minutes. After making its way through a 100,000-square-foot store, the robot records 2 terabytes of raw data using LiDAR vision. In a typical daily scenario, after scanning an aisle, the robot can deliver the data to back-end systems for analysis within a minute.

Walmart is quick to portray the robots as assistants and not replacements for its human workforce. The Bossa Nova robots, for example, don’t have limbs and can’t stock shelves. They only scan and track the inventory, so they can provide a list of problems that Walmart employees address, such as out of stocks, misplaced products, and pricing mistakes.

In the next advancement, Walmart wants more data from the robots about store patterns. Store managers want to use analytics and artificial intelligence to understand activities such as how quickly a soda sells out and which store placements provide the best sales. 

NCR Is the Robot Wrangler

From the start of Bossa Nova’s relationship with Walmart, solution provider NCR has provided vital support helping with deploying, servicing, and maintaining the robots, as well as supporting Bossa Nova’s need for geographic expansion.

In an interview with The Robot Report, Sarjoun Skaff, co-founder and chief technology officer at Bossa Nova said, “Partnering with a retail solutions company such as NCR that already has a field force for service and support makes a lot of sense. NCR has an international presence that will help us run beyond borders. We already have a U.K. office, and we hope to serve the global industry.”

Recruiting a Team of Automated Assistants

For Walmart, Amazon, and other retailers, robots are becoming mainstream. Amazon has more than 100,000 robots in its warehouses that help to move and track inventory. As for Walmart, the retail giant is also employing a squad of robots to take on other repetitive tasks. In select Walmart stores around the country, these robotic automation tools are on duty:

  • Auto-C cleans floors to create a better shopping experience
  • Auto-S scans shelf items and checks for availability and price accuracy
  • FAST Unloaders scan and sort items unloaded from delivery trucks
  • Pickup Towers making it easy for customers to pick-up online purchases.

In the COVID-19 environment retailers may be turning to robots even more to keep employees and customers safe. Robot responsibilities are sure to change and adapt in a retail world that is busier and more essential than ever before.