June 05, 2016
Drones To Take Inventory At Wal-Mart Warehouses

By Q1 2017 Wal-Mart will be using drones to fly around inside warehouses to take inventory. The drones will take pictures from which bar codes will be extracted. What strikes me as odd: Why don't they know inventory at all times by exactly measuring what goes in and out?

In a warehouse where robots stock and unstock all shelves I do not expect these drones will be necessary. Ground-based robots moving around the warehouse will be able to take inventory as they add and remove boxes and items.

Automated store stocking seems more interesting and probably would save a lot more labor. Automated store stocking could also lead into automated robots picking up your items for you. We might see the rise of stories where robots pick your goods for you. Imagine you work a UI to choose what you want, pay, and then drive down to the local store to pick up your order. Will we see some local stores gradually transition to a local warehouse where you can pick up orders outside or pay extra to have them delivered to your house?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2016 June 05 01:40 PM 

STH said at June 5, 2016 11:27 PM:

What strikes me as odd: Why don't they know inventory at all times by exactly measuring what goes in and out?

Probably because In a warehouse as large as Wal-Mart's (1.2 million sq ft), keeping track of all that merchandise can be a Herculean effort in and of itself. It's not easy to remember where all the goods and boxes are located as they are often moved around to make space for new arrivals and departures. There's also the problem of theft and pilferage, in which things go missing in the middle of night, because low-wage employees want to supplement their income so the inventory system may not be fully accurate.

Brett Bellmore said at June 6, 2016 3:24 AM:

I've had the same experience with Walmart several times: I'll check their online system, find something I want, confirm that, according to that system they have it in stock, and when I get there they're out of it. I had a stock boy tell me right out: "That site is worthless; We have no idea what we have in stock until we look." Their system is a total mess, and they know it.

The problem with knowing what's in the warehouse by what's going in and coming out, is it only works when you have a known starting state. If you start out ignorant of what's in your warehouse, you continue to be ignorant.

And, as STH said, theft. There are outputs from the system that aren't recorded. And, not being able to trust their records, they can't even identify when it happens!

f1b0nacc1 said at June 8, 2016 9:39 PM:

Items can be damaged once put in the warehouse, or there can be errors in the shipments. Worse, they can be unloaded in the wrong places or 'overflow' their original destinations, making updates to inventory essential.

I have worked with warehouses for several different clients in different environments....the idea that you can simply track in and out and get an accurate inventory is simply not workable. The real world isn't nearly that stable or predictable.

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