Walmart going big on robots to scrub floors, scan floors and do other tasks

Walmart is aggressively expanding its use of robots (“smart associates”) to automate a variety of low-level, repetitive tasks across stores amid rising labor costs in a tight labor market.

Walmart said the automated helpers have huge potential to make stores run more smoothly and give associates more time to serve customers on the sales floor by minimizing the time they spend on such mundane tasks as cleaning floors and checking inventory. The discounter has been piloting the different technologies for months now, and the response from associates has been overwhelmingly positive, according to the retailer.

“Our associates immediately understood the opportunity for the new technology to free them up from focusing on tasks that are repeatable, predictable and manual, “said John Crecelius, senior VP of central operations for Walmart U.S. “It allows them time to focus more on selling merchandise and serving customers, which they tell us have always been the most exciting parts of working in retail.”

The technologies being rolled out include autonomous floor scrubbers, which are now in use in over 200 stores and are being added to 1,500 additional locations. After an associate preps the area, the self-driving machine can be programmed to travel throughout the open parts of the store. Associates can reprogram routes as store layouts are changed.

Other “smart” technologies being deployed by Walmart include automated shelf-scanning robots, which are being added to 300 stores. The bot, now in use in about 50 locations, travels store aisles and scans items on store shelves to help ensure availability, correct shelf location, and price accuracy.

Walmart is also deploying automated technology in the back of the store. It plans to install 1,200 more FAST Unloaders. The bot, currently deployed in about 300 locations, automatically scans and sorts product items from trucks based on inventory needs and departments, allowing associates to move inventory from the back room to the sales floor more quickly.

Finally, Walmart is expanding its modern-day — and oversized — version of a vending machine and will add 900 new “pickup towers.” The kiosks are now in place in over 700 locations. To use the service, a customer places an order online and selects for the in-store pickup. Customers receive a barcode on their digital receipt. Upon entering the store, customers scan their barcode via their smartphone on the kiosk’s digital scanner to retrieve their order. The process takes less than a minute.