Not too long ago, major box store Walmart rolled out a series of tests on their robots which they plan to start using in the thousands. Seeing a need to replace repetitive tasks that seem mundane at best to a human, these robots are set to perform a variety of tasks. From inventory, product fulfillment, or cleaning floors, these robots are slated to be a big push in 2019.
"The 2018 tests of these technologies have been well-received, but it’s not enough to have these cutting-edge systems in just a few locations. That’s why additional technologies are coming soon to stores across America." (Walmart Press Release)
Initial plans appear to include the addition of 1,500 new floor cleaning robots, which they refer to as "Auto-C". The Auto-C would provide autonomous cleaning of floors, but only after an associate has already prepped the area. (Looks like even the floor cleaner gets to keep their job!)
Plans also appear to include the addition of 300 shelf scanners, which they referred to as "Auto-S". The Auto-S would wonder around the store, scanning shelves, and making notes of what was low or out of inventory, and placing the order. It would also check for accurate product placement, and price accuracy. While I'd love to say your job is safe, this one looks like a solid win for technology.
Plans for 1,200 more FAST Unloaders are also in the works. The FAST Unloaders scan and sort items unloaded from trucks, and sort based on department and priority. Unlike the human counterpart, this is an amazing way to get product out fast without the need for repetitive labor intensive tasks. This in essence reduces the wear and tear on the human workforce.
Finally, the addition of 900 new Pickup Towers will allow for orders to be placed online, and picked up in store without human intervention. The Pickup Tower is essentially a giant vending machine, except it only has your products in it, and you've already paid for them.
"These new technologies are helpful, but they’re more than simply convenient. The idea is that by leaning into the future, associates will be able to have more satisfying jobs as retail continues to change." (Walmart Press Release)
All of this tech talks to each other, allowing for a seamless process of ordering, delivering, and distributing product. While others are already using robots and technology to drive sales and product distribution, this scale of tech automation would appear to be the first signs of major automation in the Retail Sector where humans are being removed.
I highly doubt it will lead to loss of jobs, as it opens up new opportunities for other jobs in new fields, and staffing can shift as needed. It still remains to be seen how this tech will be received from the general public.