Walmart is investing heavily in automation. The retail giant recently announced it’s bringing more shelf-scanning robots to its stores. These robots scan shelves to see which items are out of stock so employees can efficiently restock them.
The robots will arrive by the summer, and they were designed by Bossa Nova Robotics. The robots are six feet tall, and they each have 15 cameras that allow them to scan the shelves. Walmart started using these robots in its stores back in 2017.
Business Insider reports that Walmart will bring 650 new robots to its stores. A Walmart representative tells Inverse that this puts the total number of stores that use these robots at 1,000 nationwide.
“The technology handles tasks that are repeatable and predictable – like scanning shelves for out-of-stocks – allowing associates to focus on serving customers and addressing areas of the store with the most need,” the representative says. “We truly look at these robots as assistants to the associates and their jobs, not replacements.”
This is just the latest development in a string of investments Walmart has made to automate its operations. Walmart has robots that clean floors, scan and sort inventory, dispense online orders and more. The company says this gives employees the “opportunity to do what they’re uniquely qualified for,” which is customer service. That said, a lot of Walmart jobs don’t involve customer service, and it seems likely these investments in automation have killed some jobs or will in the future.
“These new technologies are helpful, but they’re more than simply convenient,” the company wrote in a blog post last year. “The idea is that by leaning into the future, associates will be able to have more satisfying jobs as retail continues to change.”
Walmart is also bringing automation to its delivery services. As we reported in December, Walmart is currently testing out delivering groceries with self-driving cars. That’s a driving job that’s not going to need a human worker.
Walmart is the top employer in the United States, and it employs roughly 1.5 million Americans. From its warehouses to its stores, the company is becoming increasingly automated, and while some of this just simplifies work for its employees, there will surely come a time when a lot of the jobs people are currently doing can be fully automated.
Walmart isn’t the only retailer that’s investing heavily in automation, though. Target is currently against having robots working in its stores, but the company has invested in utilizing robots in its warehouses. Amazon’s warehouses are currently heavily automated, and the company plans to automate a lot more in the future. Amazon also has its grocery stores that are fully automated.
These companies like to say they’re just changing the nature of jobs and making them better, but as we design new robots that can do more and more complex tasks, we increase the number of jobs that can be completely automated in the retail world and beyond. There will be some jobs where we’ll probably always want a human touch, but there just might not be enough of them to keep everyone adequately employed.