Walmart has unveiled its “store of the future,” which uses artificial intelligence-enabled cameras to tip off employees when products need to be replenished on shelves or expired meat and produce needs to be replaced.
The “Intelligent Retail Lab,” or IRL as the retailer calls it, has been installed at an existing Walmart store in Levittown, NY. “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,” Mike Hanrahan, IRL’s CEO, says in a press release.
The store prominently features the technology with a data center that’s visible to customers and signs informing them of cameras. Walmart says the hardware is supported by enough cabling to scale Mt. Everest five times and enough processing power to download three years’ worth of music (about 27,000 hours) each second.
IRL marks the latest effort by Walmart to incorporate new technologies into its retail operations, which became more relevant following Amazon’s acquisition of grocer Whole Foods in 2017.
In October, Walmart debuted “Sam’s Club Now” in Dallas, a tech-enabled version of its bulk retailer in Dallas. In addition to cameras that monitor inventory, the store has electronic shelf labels that update prices in real-time and no cashiers. Customers check out using Walmart’s “Scan & Go” app.
In addition to these new retail sites, Walmart has also created its own innovation incubator called Store No. 8, which has made several acquisitions of artificial intelligence and virtual reality startups, as well as partnerships with robotics companies.
IRL is the latest project to be unveiled from Store No. 8. Hanrahan, formerly the co-founder and chief technology officer at Jet.com, led what was then known as “Project Kepler” to create a technology-aided store of the future. He joined Store No. 8 after Walmart in 2016 acquired Jet.com.
Unlike Amazon Go, the company’s convenience store that lets customers shop without any human supervision, Walmart’s IRL still has human cashiers. The Bentonville, AR-based retailer said its technologies will alert the 100 employees in Levittown when new registers need to be opened during busy times or if shopping carts need to corralled, the retailer says in the press release.
“The technology has been built to improve associates’ jobs, to make their jobs more interesting, to help them alleviate some of the mundane tasks,” Hanrahan says in the statement.