Walmart finally opens its concept store, called the Intelligent Retail Lab, to the public, calling it a new "store of the future" and a test ground for future technology.

The IRL comes equipped with artificial intelligence-powered cameras and interactive displays and is one of the retail chain's busiest Neighborhood Market stores, with more than 30,000 items.

Walmart Opens Intelligent Retail Lab

IRL resembles Amazon Go to an extent, but there are very important distinctions. Much like Amazon's cashierless stores, IRL has a suite of cameras mounted in the ceiling. But these aren't being used to determine which items customers are buying to automatically charge them once they hightail out the store. Instead, these cameras are monitoring things such as the status of stock, the number of items currently on a shelf, and others.

When a shelf is out of a particular item, for example, the AI cameras will determine as such and signal the staff to bring out more from the stock room or, in the case of cold meats, back-room refrigerators. They may also be notified if some fresh items have been out for too long on the shelf and need to be whisked away.

In other words, AI in this case helps store associates know more precisely when to restock products, as TechCrunch reports. In turn, this assures customers that items are always fresh and in stock when they pay a visit to the store.

The technology underpinning this system is complicated, according to Walmart. The automated system needs to be able to detect products on the shelf, recognize exactly what it is — down to how many pounds, if a package of meat — and then compare the quantities on the shelf with forthcoming sales demand.

Thanks to this system, employees don't need to be roaming the store all the time to replace stock. They'll know precisely which items to restock and when, even before the doors open to let customers in.

AI And Shopping

There are informational stations available in the store so interested customers can learn more about the technology in use.

There's also an interactive wall that captures body positioning and displays it in the form of abstract colors. That might seem a small and wacky addition, but it's supposed to make the technology less intimidating.

Walmart also says that AI shouldn't replace actual labor. Whereas Amazon Go erases the need for humans inside its Go outlets, IRL frees up a chunk of the staff's laborious tasks to make more time for interacting with customers.

"The technology has been built to improve associates' jobs, to make their jobs more interesting, to help them alleviate some of the mundane tasks," said IRL CEO Mike Hanrahan. "AI can enhance their skill set in a very rapidly changing world."

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