• Retail Dive

Walmart ends aisle-scanning robot contract

By Catherine Douglas Moran

Published Nov. 3, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • Walmart's contract has ended with Bossa Nova Robotics, the retailer confirmed to Retail Dive, effectively ending the retailer's plans to use roaming robots to keep track of shelf inventory. 

  • After teaming up with the robotics company five years ago, Walmart planned to continue expanding Bossa Nova's bots to 1,000 stores, up from 500 currently. Walmart is "trying other ideas" at stores with plans to keep testing new technologies and focus on its own processes and applications for inventory management, a company spokesperson wrote in an email. 

  • Walmart and Bossa Nova's split comes at a time when retailers have increasingly turned to automated technology in stores, from tracking inventory to cleaning floors. 

Dive Insight:

In January, Walmart and Bossa Nova announced that the inventory robots would expand from 350 Walmart stores to 1,000 — almost a quarter of Walmart's roughly 4,500 stores — by the end of the year. The retailer previously said the bots were meant to help human workers instead of replace them and that they would cut down on human error while boosting efficiency.

The course change resulted from Walmart finding different ways to keep track of inventory, including other automation technology and its own employees, who are now walking aisles more frequently to fill online orders, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news.

Walmart will continue to utilize other robots in its stores, the Journal reported, including cleaning machines it first introduced to stores in 2018. The company announced in August it will expand its micro-fulfillment pilot with Alert Technologies to Texas in the coming months.

Bossa Nova, meanwhile, laid off 50% of its staff and is pursuing other retailer partners and software opportunities, the Journal noted.

A spokesperson stated that the company plans to keep looking for new ways to move products to its shelves and track inventory quickly, noting that working with Bossa Nova allowed both companies to learn "a lot about how technology can assist associates, make jobs easier and provide a better customer experience."

In recent years, Walmart has been testing and rolling out various robots, including an automated unloading conveyor system and in-store order pickup towers.

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