Walmart is testing a new warehouse robot called Alphabot, supplied by startup company Alert Innovation, which built the robot for the US retail giant. (See video below.)
Alert is a developer of automated storage and retrieval systems, or ASRS, and something else called automated each-picking system, or AEPS.
A typical complete system Alert supplies includes a large storage shelving unit, along with its Alphabot, which is the only moving part.
Alphabot brings goods in boxes or totes to individual human pickers who then sort through the items and bag them ready for delivery to the customer.
An alternative system is installing a conveyor system, which is the most widely used method in such operations.
However, new warehouse automation systems which integrate robots and no conveyor are beginning to grow their market share.
Walmart says the pilot program with Alert is one of dozens of new technologies it has introduced in its many thousands of stores across the US.
The company says the Alphabot is particularly suitable for Walmart’s fast-growing online grocery service, which enables customers to order online and then collect the shopping at a “Pickup” store.
“The Alphabot system, developed especially for Walmart, is being installed at the supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire,” says Walmart in a statement.
A 20,000-square-foot extension connected to the store houses the new system and will serve as a dedicated grocery pickup point with drive-thru lanes for customers.
When completed, automated mobile carts will retrieve ordered items – stored warehouse-style in this new space – then deliver them to Walmart employees at one of four pick stations.
Walmart’s “personal shoppers” will then pick, assemble and deliver orders to customers.
The vast majority of grocery products offered in store will be fulfilled through this system, though personal shoppers will still handpick produce and other fresh items.
“We plan to have Alphabot online and running by the end of the year,” says Walmart.
The company says that shoppers at the Salem store can expect the grocery pickup service to launch in early October.
Walmart adds: “With the aid of Alphabot, our associates will have more time to focus on service and selling, the two things they often tell us are the most enjoyable part of the job, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.
“Although this is a small pilot, we expect big things from it.
“We have a lot to learn about this new technology, and we’re excited about the possibilities of how we can use it to make the future of shopping – and working – even better.”