Robots Won't Track Inventory at Walmart

Machines were cruising the aisles of about 500 stores
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 2, 2020 7:25 PM CST
Walmart Drops Inventory-Taking Robots in Stores
A Bossa Nova robot scans shelves to help provide associates with real-time inventory data at a Walmart in Houston in 2018.   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Robots may still replace us, but not today, and not in the aisles of Walmart. One lesson the company has learned during the pandemic is that while robots can keep track of store inventory, human employees are pretty good at it, too. Workers are in the aisles more often now to fill online orders, and they're spotting stocking issues as they go. So the giant retailer has ended its five-year contract with Bossa Nova Robotics, which had put the 6-foot-tall machines in about 500 stores, the Wall Street Journal reports. Walmart's metrics showed improvement in stores with the robots, but not enough of one to justify the project. In January, just before the pandemic shutdown, the company had announced plans to put the robots in more stores, per Business Insider.

The project wasn't a bust, a Walmart spokeswoman said. "We learned a lot about how technology can assist associates, make jobs easier and provide a better customer experience," she said. "We will continue testing new technologies and investing in our own processes and apps to best understand and track our inventory and help move products to our shelves as quickly as we can." The stores will still use robots for other roles, such as scrubbing floors. After laying off about half of its human staff, Bossa Nova plans to work on other tech projects. The company has its roots in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. (More robot stories.)

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