Automation is coming for another retail job as Walmart prepares to unleash 360 autonomous floor-cleaning robots to its U.S. stores by January, according to NBC News.
Walmart made the announcement jointly with Brain Corp, which makes the artificial intelligence platform that runs the robotic cleaners, in a Monday release.
The world’s largest retailer has already put more than 100 machines to work, with the help of Brain OS. When the autonomous janitors are in action, they have yellow safety guards on both sides, detering any customers who might be tempted to hop on and take a ride while cleaning is in progress.
There’s a siren on top that lets people know with a subtle “beep beep” that it’s coming through to clean. But that’s not all it’s doing. Brain’s robots have sensors that allow it to collect information, which can be uploaded into a store’s cloud-based platform. For instance, as the robot cleans, it could collect data on which shelves are empty, according to one potential use case shared by a Walmart spokesperson.
The floor-scrubbing robot is not Walmart’s only automation: “A shelf-scanning robot being tested in 50 locations alerts a team when items are out of stock or incorrectly priced” and an “AI helper, Alphabot, quickly retrieves items in storage to help fill online orders.”
Company leadership is convinced such technologies also help make human workers more productive, as employees can leave more menial jobs to robots and focus on “higher value” tasks.
"Brain OS is a powerful tool in helping our associates complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks within role and spend more time serving customers,” said John Crecelius, vice president of Central Operations at Walmart.
Though it is still unclear precisely how automation will impact human employment into the future, NBC noted that a McKinsey report issued in 2017 estimated about 400 million to 800 million jobs worldwide could be lost to automation by 2030.