Walmart expands robotic workforce in hundreds of stores nationwide

The company's newest "hirees" will bring the retailer's fleet to 1,000

The world's largest retailer is growing its robotic workforce across the United States.

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Walmart announced Monday it's adding shelf-scanning robots in 650 stores nationwide in an effort to free up its associates to do more specialized work and focus on customers.

"The technology handles tasks that are repeatable and predictable – like scanning shelves for out-of-stocks – allowing associates to focus on serving customers and addressing areas of the store with the most need," said Ragan Dickens, director of corporate communications for Walmart. "We truly look at these robots as assistants to the associates and their jobs."

The devices, also known as "Auto S," can scan items on store shelves to help "ensure availability, correct shelf location, and price accuracy," according to Walmart.

The company's newest "hirees" will bring the retailer's fleet to 1,000.

Last year, Walmart deployed the use of 350 Bossa Nova robots throughout 350 store locations in a move to rival fellow shopping giant Amazon, which has been increasingly filling warehouses with robotics and AI software.

Bossa Nova is a robotics startup founded in Pittsburgh and partnered with Walmart in 2014.

A Bossa Nova Robotics scanning device moves through an aisle at a Walmart Supercenter. (Photo by Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images)

Without these fast-moving pods, robotic arms and other forms of warehouse automation, retailers say they wouldn't be able to fulfill consumer demand for packages that can land on doorsteps the day after you order them online.

"Each implemented innovation is removing more and more of the mundane work such as scanning shelfs, checking prices, cleaning floors or unloading trucks and thus allowing our associates more time to serve and sell to our customers," Dickens added.

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"Every hero needs a sidekick, and some of the best have been automated."

- Elizabeth Walker, Walmart corporate affairs

The addition of these machines has, however, created a fear that they would eventually take over, leaving a trail of unemployed humans in their wake. There are also growing concerns that keeping up with the pace of the latest artificial intelligence technology is taking a toll on human workers' health, safety and morale.

But Walmart noted these machines are geared towards making an associate's job more "satisfying."

"These new technologies are helpful, but they're more than simply convenient," said Elizabeth Walker, Walmart Corporate Affairs. "The idea is that by leaning into the future, associates will be able to have more satisfying jobs as retail continues to change."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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