Meet Alphabot: Walmart Inc.’s online grocery order picking robot. This autonomous mobile cart wheels around the storage room of Walmart’s Salem, New Hampshire, store gathering nonperishable items for customers who have placed online grocery orders for pickup. It then delivers those items to Walmart workers who pick, assemble and deliver the order to customers.

Walmart introduced Alphabot last year to improve inventory accuracy and help its associates fulfill orders more quickly.

The robots aim to make store associates more efficient, says Ragan Dickens, director of corporate communications for Walmart. “We view these machines as an assistant to the associate,” he says. “The machines enable associates to complete the other tasks within their assigned roles while the machines complete the mundane, repeatable tasks.”

The Alphabot is still being tested at the Salem store, but Walmart plans to pay close attention to the time it takes to fill online grocery pickup orders, “potentially creating even more convenience for customers by allowing them to order their groceries closer to the time they want to pick them up,” Dickens says.

Walmart is hardly alone in looking to robots as the future of their fulfillment and distribution centers as a means of improving efficiency and reducing costs. Worldwide delivery service DHL is using product-picking robots at its warehouses in North America to help handle e-commerce demand. Gap Inc. in October 2017 began adding human-assisted robotic arms from robotics and artificial intelligence startup Kindred to its warehouses to better fulfill more online orders. And Amazon.com Inc.—which acquired Kiva Systems robots in 2012 for $775 million then renamed it Amazon Robotics—now uses more than 100,000 robots inside its warehouses.

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