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Brave New World Of Retail: Walmart’s Robots Are Just The Beginning

Joan Verdon Senior Contributor Retail

The Bossa Nova robotics booth at the National Retail Federation show on January 13, 2020.
Retailers visiting the Bossa Nova robotics booth at the National Retail Federation show Monday … [+]JOAN VERDON

 It’s a refrain heard repeatedly at this week’s National Retail Federation trade show and convention: Let the robots do what they do best, and free up human employees to do what they do best.

And the retail industry has decided that what robots do best (and what humans are bad at) is spotting when bottles of shampoo are sold out, or cans of soup are in the wrong place, and keeping track of when store shelves need to be replaced.

A clear sign that shelf-scanning robots and other automated inventory tracking systems have reached the tipping point came Monday with the news that Walmart is expanding its use of shelf-scanning robots to another 650 of its stores, bringing the number of robot-assisted Walmart stores to 1,000.

That news gave Bossa Nova, the robotics and retail tech company supplying Walmart’s robots, a boost at the trade show, where it was demonstrating its robots.

A number of other companies at the show also were showing off their versions of scanning robots, including Badger Technologies, a division of tech corporation Jabil; and Savioke, which has partnered with Brain Corp to add shelf-scanning capabilities to its floor cleaning and hospitality robots.

One company, Gather.ai, is demonstrating an inventory-counting, camera-equipped drone designed to scan boxes on warehouse shelves.

Even more exhibitors are displaying automated shelf scanning systems that use cameras mounted on shelves to monitor inventory levels combined with software that analyzes the information collected by the camera to alert store employees when shelves need to be restocked.

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