Walmart Experiments With an AI-powered Store Open to the Public in Levittown, NY


Walmart recently unveiled a new “store of the future” test ground for emerging technologies, including AI-enabled cameras and interactive displays. The store, a working concept called the Intelligent Retail Lab — or “IRL” for short — operates out of a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Levittown, N.Y.

The store is open to customers and is one of Walmart’s busiest Neighborhood Market stores, containing more than 30,000 items, the retailer says, which allows it to test out technology in a real-world environment.

Similar to Amazon Go’s convenience stores, the store has a suite of cameras mounted in the ceiling. But unlike Amazon Go, which is a grab-and-go store with smaller square footage, Walmart’s IRL spans 50,000 square feet of retail space and is staffed by more than 100 employees.

Plus, in Walmart’s case, these AI-powered cameras are not being used to determine which items customers are buying in order to automatically charge them. It still has traditional checkout stations. Instead, the cameras will monitor inventory levels to determine, for example, if staff needs to bring out more meat from the back-room refrigerators to restock the shelves, or if some fresh items have been sitting too long on the shelf and need to be pulled.

The idea is that the AI will help the store associates know more precisely where and when to restock products. And this, in turn, means customers will know the produce and meat is always fresh and in stock when they arrive.

Using technology to do this is not simple, Walmart says. It means the automated system will need to be able to detect products on the shelf, recognize the exact product it sees (1 lb of ground beef versus 2 lbs., etc.), and then compare the quantities on the shelf to upcoming sales demand.

For store associates, the system allows them to stop constantly walking the store to replace inventory — instead, they’ll know what to bring out from the back room before the doors even open to customers that day.

The cameras and other sensors in the store pump out 1.6 TB of data per second, or the equivalent of three years’ worth of music, which necessitates a big data center on site. At the IRL store, it’s glass-encased, bathed in blue light and on display to the public.

This could seem a little intimidating — AI cameras and giant servers. But Walmart says the data is only stored for less than a week.

There are also informational stations in the store where customers can learn more about the technology in use. A Welcome Center in the store is available too, for customers who want to learn more about the technical specifications and get answers to common questions.

An interactive wall lets customers have fun with AI — it demonstrates how an AI system can estimate body positioning. But really it’s meant to make all this new technology seem less intimidating.

Read the source article at TechCrunch.