Sam's Club will soon be asking robots to do double duty. The membership warehouse club is undergoing a national, chain-wide rollout of an inventory scanning feature that will be added to existing floor scrubbing robots.
The move suggests an interesting new chapter for Walmart Inc, owner of Sam's Club. One of the biggest robotics stories of the last few years came when Walmart killed a 500 store deployment of shelf-scanning robots developed by automation firm Bossa Nova, which marked the end of the technology's highest-profile test case to date. In the wake of the cancelled contract, developers of inventory scanning robots scrambled to differentiate their technology and prove that the fate of one company's contract meant little to the technology's long-term prospects.
The latest rollout by Sam's Club, which marks a return to autonomous inventory scanning by a Walmart brand, supports that thesis.
"Sam's Club is hyper-focused on making sure our members have a seamless shopping experience, so any time-saving innovation we can implement is significant. By adding Inventory Scan to our current fleet of robotic scrubbers, we obtain critical inventory data that previously was time-consuming to obtain," said Todd Garner, VP of In-Club Product Management at Sam's Club. "This intelligence allows us to proactively manage our clubs in an efficient manner. Inventory Scan assures items are available and easy to locate in the club, freeing up time for our associates to focus on members and the shopping experience they deserve."
This is a noteworthy deal for the robotics sector insofar as it's a good illustration of what automation is going to look like "in the wild" in the coming years. Brain Corp, which has been quietly building an empire based around robotic scrubbing machines, isn't glitzy by robotics development standards. However, the company's AI-powered machines are massively popular amid ongoing labor shortages and pandemic-related shifts in how commercial spaces are utilized. While other companies are manufacturing standalone inventory scanning robots, Brain Corp has been building on its success over the past few years by diversifying the capabilities of its robots.
The add-on scanning accessory will be fitted to the almost 600 autonomous floor scrubbers already deployed within Sam's Club stores nationwide. These towers, powered by Brain Corp's AI operating system, BrainOS, and manufactured by Tennant Company, will capture data as the robots move autonomously around the store. Reports are then delivered to the Sam's Club managers and provide insights like verification of pricing accuracy, planogram compliance, product stock levels, and product localization. Each function negates the need for time-consuming and manual processes, reducing waste and inventory loss.
"This latest iteration of our valued and longstanding partnership with Sam's Club marks the beginning of realizing the next phase in our company's vision," said Dr. Eugene Izhikevich, CEO of Brain Corp. "We are actively taking BrainOS-powered robots from primarily task-oriented machines to in-store data acquisition platforms, able to deliver actionable insights on inventory availability, planogram compliance and more. This adds significant ROI for retailers."