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Walmart is testing an AI-powered superstore in New York

Okay, maybe it’s not Skynet that brings the end of the world…

Walmart irl ai store
Image: Walmart

We’ve seen a bunch of “Store of the Future” concepts spring up recently, from Amazon’s cashier-less Go stores and 7-Eleven’s hipster paradise, to McDonald’s self-order kiosks so you don’t actually need to talk to another human to get your nuggies. It was inevitable that Walmart would get in on the act, unveiling its vision of the future of retail, the Intelligent Retail Lab, or IRL for short.

The impressive acronym is built inside a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Levittown, New York. Walmart says that site was chosen as it’s one of the busiest Neighborhood Markets, which has a fairly impressive 30,000 different items for sale on its shelves. The IRL lives up to the “Lab” part, allowing Walmart to test out the technology in a real-life setting to see what works and what doesn’t.

Walmart’s take on using AI in-store starts with a huge number of cameras mounted in the ceiling. With 50,000 square feet of retail space in the IRL, that’s a lot of cameras. They’re not there to catch shoplifters or automatically charge you for the things you put into your cart, instead Walmart uses them to monitor stock levels, like if more fresh meat needs restocking, or if fresh goods have been sitting out for too long and need to be pulled.

Walmart says this system is pretty complex, with the automated system needing to be able to detect if products are on the shelves, figure out exactly what they are (like 1lb of steak vs 2lb of steak) and compare those stock levels to estimated sales demand. Nothing a 17-year old couldn’t do, so maybe that’s the intelligence level that Walmart’s AI is up to.

Is this the paving to eventual AI bosses? I mean, checking stock levels and sending minions er I mean store associates out to restock sounds like the existing human supervisors to me.

All of those cameras and other sensors create a massive amount of data

1.6TB per second, to be exact, the equivalent of three year’s worth of music listening. That means Walmart needed to house some pretty darn big servers onsite to handle that load, with a twist. All of the servers running the store are in full view of the customers, with two huge video walls on either side of the Data Center windows, inviting customers to interact with them.

Walmart says it’ll be using the AI to free up associates to be available to interact with customers more. I can’t wait until we have robo-security guards at the Walmart of the future stopping robots from shoplifting for their human owners.

What do you think? Would you like to see this come to a Walmart near you? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Maker, meme-r, and unabashed geek with nearly half a decade of blogging experience. If it runs on electricity (or even if it doesn't), Joe probably has one around his office somewhere. His hobbies include photography, animation, and hoarding Reddit gold.

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