For the last several months Walmart has been testing a small number of robot workers in its stores. The automatic helpers assist their human counterparts with everything from floor cleaning and restocking shelves to unloading trucks and taking inventory.
Now, the Arkansas-based company is going all-in on the robots, in its quest to compete with Amazon. Digital Trends reports that the deployment includes 1,500 autonomous Auto-C floor cleaners, 300 Auto-S shelf scanners to monitor inventory, 1,200 FAST Unloaders that automatically scan and sorts items delivered by trucks, and 900 Pickup Towers that function like giant vending machines for customers collecting orders that they placed online.
According to Walmart, the new mechanical workforce is not meant to replace any current employees, but will instead free up their human counterparts’ time so that they can offer a greater level of service to customers. Ideally this will allow Walmart’s human staff to spend less time on monotonous tasks like restocking.
During the testing phase, Walmart said that employee response to the robots was “overwhelmingly positive.” John Crecelius, senior vice president of central operations for Walmart U.S., said staff at its stores “immediately understood the opportunity for the new technology to free them up from focusing on tasks that are repeatable, predictable, and manual.”
“It allows them time to focus more on selling merchandise and serving customers, which they tell us have always been the most exciting parts of working in retail,” Crecelius said.
The executive is quick to restate that the robots were not meant to take jobs away from current Walmart employees, but with the growing concerns about automated labor, people are understandably worried. In the above video, one shopper was asked if she believed that the retail robots would not eliminate the need for human workers. She was not convinced.
At the World Economic Forum last year, robots were predicted to be capable of performing all “work tasks” by 2025. This would encompass around 75 million jobs worldwide. However, it is expected that the industries surrounding these robots could create upwards of 150 million jobs in the same time-frame.