Walmart Launches AI to Monitor Stores

Walmart Artificial Intelligence IRL Store

Walmart Lauanches Artificial Intelligence IRL Retail Store

Walmart added artificial intelligence (AI) to an existing retail location. The AI enabled super store on Long Island includes artificial intelligence-enabled cameras, internal apps, sensors, and interactive displays. The AI wired location is Walmart’s Neighborhood Market located in Levittown, New York. The store occupies 50,000 square feet of real retail space and is considered a busy store.

The AI enabled store is referred to as the company’s new Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL). For the rest of the world, the acronym IRL still means, “in real life.” The cameras and tracking sensors are used to monitor stock level, checkout queues, and perishable product freshness. The AI is not being used to monitor customer behavior at this time. However, there is a trend in retail shopping to use cameras and biometrics to predict customer behavior and monitor preferences.

Walmart’s corporate site states, “It’s a unique real-world shopping environment designed to explore the possibilities artificial intelligence can contribute to the store experience.”

Walmart’s IRL is set up to gather information about what’s happening inside the Levittown store through a network of sensors, cameras, and processors. The goal is to ensure products are available on the store shelves, that shopping carts are available, and enough registers are open.

Walmart IRL Store
Walmart IRL Store

The company is taking an up-front stance about its new technology. The Levittown store has interactive educational areas set up within the store, so customers can learn about the super store’s new technologies and its technical specifications. Customers can also interact with educational kiosks as they shop.

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Walmart recently signed an agreement with Microsoft to provide cloud computing services and data analytics. An extensive video network of video cameras and sensors installed throughout the IRL relay information to a data center located on site. There is an incredible 1.6 TB of data transmitted every second. The on-site data center utilizes 100 servers with 400 graphics processing units. It takes ten cooling towers to keep the network running smoothly. The data center is available for public viewing through glass windows.

A combination of cameras and real-time analytics automatically alerts staff about which products need to be restocked. Internal apps alert Walmart associates when to re-stock. The technology is not being used to monitor customer behavior at this time. Walmart’s IRL only helps employees focus on product inventory and store status in real time.

The Walmart IRL store automatically:

  1. Detects products on the shelf
  2. Recognizes specific product attributes. IRL understands the difference between package sizes for the same product
  3. Compares the quantities on the shelf to expected future sales demand

What’s the difference Between Walmart IRL and Amazon Go Stores?

A network of video cameras and sensors throughout the Walmart IRL store monitor product levels on store shelves. Products are monitored and employees are alerted when a product needs to be restocked. This differs from an Amazon Go store which has no checkouts.

Amazon Go stores have no cashiers and do not accept cash. Customers show their Amazon app at the entrance. They then select their products from store shelves and leave without having to scan products at a checkout counter. Walmart customers must go to a checkout counter, manned or self-checkout, to complete a purchase.

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Amazon has ten Amazon Go stores in Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco. 7-Eleven is experimenting with a cashier-less store in Dallas.

Walmart Uses AI Robots Too

This is not Walmart’s first foray into technology. The company has one smaller (32,000 square feet) cashier-less Sam’s Club in Dallas. Cash is not accepted. Members scan products as they shop and pay with the credit card connected to an app. They show a QR code to an associate when they leave the store.

In 2018, Walmart debuted an AI robot to patrol aisles searching for out-of-stock items, looking for incorrect prices, and finding shelves with missing labels. Other versions of Walmart robots use lasers, cameras, and sensors to monitor the floor cleanliness. The floor-cleaning bots have been rolled out to 360 stores. The company also has 900 kiosks installed in stores so customers can order online and pick up purchases in stores without human interaction.