From Engadget Feb 2021 — With an automated drive-through option coming in the near future.
Back in 2019, Walmart started piloting its first local fulfillment center in Salem, which uses robots called the Alphabot to pick items from shelves. Now, the retail giant is turning more locations into automated fulfillment centers by converting a portion of the stores into warehouses or adding a new section. Walmart stocks automated fulfillment centers with frequently purchased goods, including consumables (such as fresh and frozen items) and electronics. They’re meant to make order delivery and pickup a lot faster, and the Alphabot is a key element in making that possible.
The wheeled robot can quickly go anywhere inside a warehouse to retrieve items from shelves and then take them to a workstation for assembly. Human associates will then be freed up to handpick products best left to non-robotic workers, such as meat, vegetables and fruits. In a post announcing the initiative on the company website, SVP of Customer Product Tom Ward said the process can “take just a few minutes from the time the order is placed to the time it’s ready for a customer or delivery driver to collect.” Being able to fulfill orders faster means Walmart can accommodate more customers, which could help the company in its bid to catch up to Amazon.
Walmart is collaborating with a startup, Alert Innovation, to introduce automated technology to Online Grocery Pickup at the supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire. By teaming up with the new Alphabot system in this small pilot, associates can spend less time on repeatable tasks and more time serving customers.