Walmart’s exclusive Alphabot tech is finally fully operational.
With the goal of revolutionizing the online grocery pickup and delivery process, automated grocery-picking robots have moved beyond the pilot to working alongside associates in a warehouse behind the Walmart’s Salem, NH, supercenter.
Walmart announced the pilot of the tech, developed for the retailer by startup Alert Innovation, in August, 2018, and originally said it planned to have Alphabot online and running by the end of the year.
Now the system is operating inside a 20,000-square-foot space, using autonomous carts to retrieve ambient, refrigerated and frozen items ordered for online grocery. After it retrieves them, Alphabot delivers the products to a workstation, where a Walmart associate checks, bags and delivers the final order.
The system’s fully autonomous bots operate on three axes of motion, constituting a more flexible system than is typically found in traditional fulfillment centers and warehouses. Because the carts that carry items move both horizontally and vertically without any lifts or conveyors, there are fewer space constraints to consider, which Walmart said will make the tech easier to scale across stores.
While associates will continue to pick fresh items like produce by hand, Alphabot is expected to make the retrieval process for all other items faster.
“By assembling and delivering orders to associates, Alphabot is streamlining the order process, allowing associates to do their jobs with greater speed and efficiency,” said Brian Roth, senior manager of pickup automation and digital operations for Walmart U.S. “Ultimately, this will lower dispense times, increase accuracy and improve the entirety of online grocery. And it will help free associates to focus on service and selling, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.”
As Walmart continues to battle with Amazon and Kroger for grocery dollars, Alphabot is marks Walmart’s effort to utilize intelligent technology to make a transformative impact to its supply chain.
“Alphabot is what we think of as micro-fulfillment – an inventive merger of e-commerce and brick and mortar methods,” said Roth.
Walmart also said the tech is expected to help it make better substitutions, thanks to real-time data sharing. Alphabot continually shares order information, so as the system learns, stocking will get more intelligent.
“We never want to be in a position to tell an online grocery customer they can’t have an item,” Roth said. “We’ll be able to look at datasets and fairly say ‘these two brands of pasta are typically bought together,’ or ‘here’s an item a consumer buys often,’ and use that information to make more informed substitutions.”
Walmart said the Salem site will continue to serve as Alphabot’s home while the process is “studied, refined and perfected” and next steps for a rollout of the tech will be decided after collecting associate and customer feedback. Business Insider reports the company plans to build similar facilities onto stores in Mustang, Oklahoma and Burbank, California this year.