Sam’s Club expands autonomous floor-sweeping robots to all U.S. stores
In December 2018, Walmart announced it would partner with robotics software startup Brain Corp to bring autonomous floor scrubbers to some of its brick-and-mortar stores. In an expansion of that partnership, the companies today revealed that Walmart-owned Sam’s Club will add 372 robot floor scrubbers to the hundreds of units it has already deployed, covering every location in its U.S. chain (around 600 stores). The retailer will also expand its shelf analytics pilot with cleaning company Tennant (with whom Brain Corp has a partnership) and Brain Corp’s dual-function robot that combines cleaning and scanning capabilities.
Robots (and even drones) are coming for big box stores, promising to save time by autonomously inventorying stock and sweeping floors. Research and Markets anticipates that the global brick-and-mortar automation market will be worth close to $18.9 million by 2023, which some analysts say could cut down on the billions of dollars in lost revenue traced to misplaced and erroneously priced items. Robots also have the benefit of promoting contactless, physically distant shopping and work environments. In a July survey, researchers at Pompeu Fabra University found that over 195 different kinds of robots have been piloted in public spaces since the start of the pandemic.
Sam’s Club will deploy Tennant T7AMR floor scrubbers that are designed to wet-scrub both rough and smooth hard surfaces, including concrete, tile, and stone. In addition, following a six-month proof of concept, the retailer will grow its cloud-based analytics app that helps verify item pricing accuracy, confirm planogram compliance, and ensure product availability. (In retail, planograms are visual representations of a store’s products or services on display.) The app will run on the dual-function scrubbers where available, according to Brain Corp.
Notably, Brain Corp is making its move after grocery story inventory robot developer Simbe Robotics announced it would put robots in 62 Schnucks Markets stores across the U.S. Earlier in the year, Simbe competitor Bossa Nova committed to growing its deployment of inventory robots from 350 Walmart stores to over 1,000 by 2021.
BrainOS is the brainchild of CEO Dr. Eugene Izhikevich and EVP Dr. Allen Gruber. The pair developed an operating system tailored to the needs of customers whose robots operate in fulfillment centers, airports, and elsewhere, Izhikevich explained to VentureBeat in an earlier interview. A learn-by-demonstration feature “teaches” machines to perform tasks based on manual operations, while mapping and navigation algorithms account for congested corridors. And the devices Brain Corp orchestrates coordinate with each other over on-premises and cloud networks, downloading new configuration files and updates as they idle.
Izhikevich said the bulk of Brain Corp’s current work is focused on exploring new industries and applications for BrainOS, with the goal of making it a “robotics industry-standard technology.” The company also intends to partner with robotics startups to expand BrainOS into “applications beyond floorcare,” specifically in the areas of materials handling and store operations.
San Diego-based Brain Corp claims over 14,000 robots and 3 million autonomous operational hours in the field. As of April, the company employed a staff of “well over” 200 people. Brain Corp recently raised $36 million, bringing its total raised to $161 million.
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