Brain Corp. Agrees to Power More Walmart Self-Driving Floor Scrubbers

Early next year the floors of hundreds of Walmart stores will be cleaned by self-driving scrubbing machines powered by software developed by San Diego’s Brain Corp.

On Monday, Brain said Walmart (NYSE: WMT), the world’s largest retailer, will be using BrainOS, its proprietary operating system, in 360 such autonomous machines by Jan. 31, the end of Walmart’s fiscal year. No financial details of the deal were disclosed.

The BrainOS platform is already being used in more than 100 of Walmart’s floor scrubbers, the company said. The robot uses sensors to scan its surroundings, and the input from the sensors gives the BrainOS the data it needs to navigate autonomously.

The BrainOS software uses computer vision and artificial intelligence libraries (big databases of advanced algorithms) to enable machines to navigate busy, crowded areas without human help.

Walmart has about 5,300 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

In an October blog post, Walmart described how employees at its U.S. stores drive a floor scrubber for two hours daily to ensure the machines clean the stores appropriately. A BrainOS-powered scrubber, which Walmart is calling Auto-C (for Autonomous Cleaner), will move through the store on its own, following a path previously “taught” to it by an employee during an initial training ride.

“BrainOS is a powerful tool in helping our associates complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks within role and spend more time serving customers,” said John Crecelius, Walmart’s vice president of central operations, in a prepared statement.

The machines are a part of a broader ecosystem of technologies Walmart is taking advantage of to make store operations more efficient. Walmart already uses robots, called Auto-S (for Autonomous Scanner), which roam the aisles checking shelves for mislabeled, incorrectly priced, and out-of-stock items.

Other businesses nationwide are also working on automation software that aims to provide machines with similar capabilities. Among them are Plus One Robotics in San Antonio, TX, and 6 River Systems in Boston.

Earlier this year, Savioke, a Bay Area-based company that makes rolling delivery robots for hotels, raised a $134 million Series B financing round. Unusually, Brain—a venture-backed company—joined in the investment.

Co-founded in 2009 by computational neuroscientist Eugene Izhikevich (pictured) and tech entrepreneur Allen Gruber, Brain incubated at the San Diego headquarters of Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM). In 2014, it left the corporate campus as an independent startup—with an $11 million investment from the wireless giant’s venture arm. Izhikevich is the company’s CEO.

Last year, Brain raised a financing round of more than $100 million from Japan’s SoftBank.

In November, Brain announced that its operating system would soon be used to power a smaller machine: an autonomous vacuum cleaner designed for retail and office environments by SoftBank’s robotics division. The product is initially slated to be sold in Japan next year.

Sarah de Crescenzo is an Xconomy editor based in San Diego. You can reach her at [email protected] Follow @sarahdc

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