Plant Floor Success Takes Robots to Walmart

Smart retail concept: robot checking on products.

Bossa Nova recently unveiled a collection of 6' tall robots that are equipped with barcode scanners and cameras to help manage the 200,000+ products lining Walmart's shelves. In two minutes, these robotic store associates can image 80' of aisles and capture as much as two terabytes of raw data. 

Although the industrial sector has long served as a proving grounds of sorts for technology before it makes its way to the consumer realm, these units are some of the first collaborative robots to go mainstream. Whereas robots have worked alongside humans on packaging and assembly lines for some time, the Bossa Nova units are among the first to make their presence known to the general public.

The precision and reliability demanded in the manufacturing environment helped prepare these robots for autonomously roaming 100,000 square-feet of store aisles – dodging co-workers, customers and miscellaneous objects along the way thanks to its embedded LiDAR system. An internal mapping platform combines with sensors to not only "learn" the store layout, but stop and wait if it crosses paths with a person, or re-route its path if a new display is detected.

The scanning application analyzes shelf depth for assessing inventory levels and proper product placement. The efficient handling or manipulating of such objects is still a challenge for robots, so a human cohort uses the aforementioned information to re-stock shelves and address misplaced items - for now. 

This next level of robotic development could be vital in helping brick-and-mortars keep pace with online retailers. According to a WIRED article, Amazon utilizes up to 100,000 robots to pick orders and bring items to humans for placement in shipping boxes. 

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