In the very near future, the person who picks out your online Walmart grocery pickup order may not be, well, a person at all. That’s due to the fact that the retail giant recently announced that it has teamed up with Massachusetts-based Alert Innovation to adopt a special custom version of Alert’s Alphabot product-picking robots. The automated assistants, which take the form of miniature food-picking shuttle robots, will be used at the massive 20,000-square foot warehouse attached to Walmart’s Salem, New Hampshire, superstore.
The hope is that using this technology can increase the speed at which customer’s orders can be picked out — and therefore picked up by customers with limited time to spend shopping.
In a statement, Walmart described how Alphabot will retrieve ordered items, before delivering them to store associates at one of its pick stations. “Our personal shoppers will then pick, assemble and deliver orders to customers,” it noted. “The vast majority of grocery products we offer in-store will be fulfilled through this system, though our personal shoppers will still handpick produce and other fresh items.”
Alphabot is set to go live by the end of this year. Starting October 1, shoppers at the Salem store will be able to go and pick up their robot-chosen order, with the possibility of home deliveries being rolled out at a later date. For now, this is considered a “pilot program,” meaning that there is no guarantee that Alphabot will find a long-term home in the Walmart family. However, if it’s as successful as the company hopes, this surely isn’t out of the question. Currently, upward of 1,200 Walmart stores offer the grocery pickup service. That is twice the number of stores where it was available just two years ago.
Walmart isn’t the only retail company to turn to robots to solve some of these product picking problems. Amazon has long embraced robots, working alongside humans, at its fulfillment centers. Meanwhile, in the U.K., online supermarket Ocado is battling to show itself as the most tech-savvy food retailer of them all — courtesy of a humanoid bot the company hopes will one day be able to work alongside humans in its warehouses.