Walmart recently unveiled a new “store of the future” — a test ground for up and coming technologies including AI-enabled cameras and interactive displays.
The store is a working concept called the Intelligent Retail Lab — or “IRL” for short.
The first store of its kind works out of a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Levittown, New York.
The store is now open to customers and is currently one of the most busiest Walmart’s — containing over 30,000 items according to the retailer.
The store allows to test out technology in a real-world environment, much similar to Amazon Go’s convenience store.
But Walmart’s IRL store boasts 50,000 square feet of retail space and is staffed by over 100 employees unlike Amazon Go which is more of a “grab-and-go” type store with significantly smaller square footage.
But that being said, at Walmart, the AI-powered cameras are not being utilized to determine which items customers are purchasing in order to automatically charge them but still has traditional check out stations.
The cameras instead monitor inventory levels — the idea being that if staff needs to restock shelves or pull fresh items that have been sitting out too long, they can do so.
But Walmart says using this type of technology is not simple as it means the automated system will need to detect products on the shelf, recognize the exact product and then compare the quantities on the shelf to upcoming sales demand.
The system allows for store associates to stop constantly walking the store to replace inventory — as they will now know what to bring out from the back room before the doors open to customers on any particular given day.
The cameras along with other sensors in the store, churn out 1.6 TB of data per second which is the equivalent of three years’ worth of music — which translates to a huge data center on site.
And while AI cameras along with giant servers may seem a little intimidating with its blue-lit, glass encased wall on display for customers, Walmart claims the data is only stored for less than a week.
There are also informational stations around the store where customers can learn more about the technology that is being used with a Welcome Center available for customers who want to learn more as well as get answers to frequently asked questions.
An interactive wall allows customers to have fun with AI — as it demonstrates how an AI system can estimate body positioning but really, it is designed to make all the new technology appear less intimidating.
“Technology enables us to understand so much more – in real time – about our business,” says CEO of IRL, Mike Hanrahan. “When you combine all the information we’re gathering in IRL with Walmart’s 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates.”
Additionally, the company states that the new tech is not replacing jobs but actually freeing up staff to interact with customers.
But time will tell if this is actually the case…
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