Walmart inaugrates AI-based store, now open to the public

Walmart has unveiled a publicly accessible AI-based concept store, the Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL for short), in Levittown, New York. Walmart, which faces fierce competition from Amazon isn’t going to let Amazon’s AI-powered stores go unanswered, although it’s not exactly cloning the concept.

Intelligent Retail Lab — the retail giant’s biggest attempt to digitize the physical store:

On Thursday, the retail giant officially opens its Intelligent Retail Lab inside a 50,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market grocery store on Long Island. Intelligent Retail Lab uses computer vision and a vast array of cameras not to handle purchases, like Amazon Go does, but to help employees restock empty shelves and corral shopping carts. There are still checkout lines and floor staff, Walmart notes — this is meant to minimize drudgery for workers and free them for tasks “humans can do best,” like helping customers.

Thousands of cameras suspended from the ceiling, combined with other technology like sensors on shelves, will monitor the store in real time so workers can quickly replenish products or fix other problems.

The technology will also be able to spot spills, track when shelves need to be restocked and know when shopping carts are running low. Cameras, for example, can determine how ripe bananas are from their color, and workers will get an alert on their phone if they need to be replaced.

Walmart hopes to start scaling some of the new technology at other stores in the next six months, with an eye toward lower costs and thus lower prices. As the shopping experience improves, the retailer expects to see higher sales.

“We really like to think of this store as an artificial intelligence factory, a place where we are building these products, experiences, where we are testing and learning,” said Mike Hanrahan, CEO of Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab and co-founder of Jet.com, purchased by Walmart three years ago.

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