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Walmart Brings Inventory-Tracking Robots to Sam's Club

Walmart more than a year ago ended a contract for inventory-tracking robots. It's now bringing a new set into its membership unit, Sam's Club.

Walmart not long ago said that shelf-tracking robots failed to bring in the desired revenue. 

Now, a new partnership is once again striving to bring them to the Bentonville, Ark., retailing giant, this time to the floors of its warehouse shopping membership division, Sam's Club.

As part of a partnership with Brain Corp., the San Diego artificial-intelligence startup, Sam's Club will add hundreds of new robotic floor cleaners to cover all 600 of its warehouse locations. And the robots will include tech that will simultaneously scan shelves to track things like product availability and placement.

"Sam’s Club is hyperfocused on making sure our members have a seamless shopping experience, so any time-saving innovation we can implement is significant," Todd Garner, vice president of in-club product management at Sam's Club, said in a statement. 

"By adding inventory scan to our current fleet of robotic scrubbers, we obtain critical inventory data that previously was time-consuming to obtain."

Sam’s Club Inventory Analytics Robots Lead

Walmart Previously Dropped Its Robots

After pumping millions of dollars into robots that would help track inventory, Walmart pulled its five-year partnership with Bossa Nova Robotics and chose instead to prioritize human workers.

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In November 2020 a person familiar with the situation told The Wall Street Journal that Walmart had told Bossa Nova that in using the technology, the retailer had not seen enough of an improvement in revenue and other metrics. 

Walmart did not immediately respond to TheStreet's request for comment on what prompted the decision to reinvest in inventory-scanning technology.

Walmart, Amazon Cleaning Up With Robotics?

Due to their ability to disinfect large surfaces quickly, cleaning robots have caught on even as other segments of warehouse work have not been as responsive to automation.

Amid the pandemic and growing customer focus on cleanliness, Walmart has been on a mission to automate its cleaning and sanitization processes. The company had committed to having cleaning robots at 1,860 of its 4,700 or so U.S. stores by 2021. 

As more large-scale retailers go down this road, the market for cleaning robots has exploded. Valued at $7.25 billion now, it is projected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 22.8% and reach $30.53 billion by 2027, according to a report from Maximize Market Research.

Amazon  (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report has been employing floor-scrubbing robots for its factories since at least 2018. (The Seattle online-retail giant also partners with Brain Corp.) 

And while the word "robot" brings up images of something out of "Terminator" or "Star Wars," changes toward more automation can be subtle. As part of a partnership with IBM IBM, McDonald's  (MCD) - Get McDonald's Corporation Report recently moved to automate some drive-thru lanes to respond to customers using artificial intelligence.