Walmart Canada’s vision system tracks inventory on store shelves

Walmart Canada is rolling out an automated vision system to keep store shelves stocked with merchandise.

The announcement follows the mega-retailer’s 70-store pilot using a computer vision solution from Focal Systems (Burlingame, CA, USA; www.focal.systems). The product uses a combination of cameras and AI-based software to automate out-of-stock detection.

In a press release, Robin DeMers, Director, Store Optimization at Walmart (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; www.walmart.ca/en) states that Walmart purchased the technology to improve the shopping experience for customers and the work experience for employees. “We know it can be disappointing for customers when we don’t have the products they want on our shelves. That’s why we started this pilot project using technology from Focal Systems that takes the guesswork out of knowing when a product is out of stock,” she explains. “This advanced technology provides real-time automated alerts for restocking in key priority areas of our stores. It also allows our associates to benefit from cool technology that makes a big difference in the way they work and provide the best customer experience possible.

There are four types of battery-operated and Wi-Fi-enabled cameras from Focal Systems, depending on whether they will be mounted on shelves, refrigerators, hooks and products or end-of-aisle units. A typical 30,000-square-foot store would use about 400 cameras, Focal Systems says on its website, and they can usually be installed overnight.

To accurately detect product SKUs, Focal Systems trained its computer vision models on more than 1.4 billion tagged images from retailers around the world.

The cameras, which are mounted on shelves, scan barcodes and QR codes every hour. The camera can scan barcodes from over 20 feet away and cover up to 8 linear square feet of space.

After the cameras scan the store’s inventory, the computer models clean up any images involving personally identifiable information of customers and employees. Then the software evaluates the product images to determine stock levels, spoiled products, or misplaced items.

After scanning, the system triggers a restock order, if needed, through Walmart’s existing inventory system. Since the cameras are also mounted in the back room of a store, the system knows whether to add an item to the store associates pick list or order more products.

“By scanning your entire sales floor and inventory every hour, Focal can instantly update e-comm platforms to reduce substitutions and increase productivity for e-comm pickers,” says Focal Systems on its website, adding that time and motion studies it has conducted show a 2.5x increase in productivity for store employees responsible for restocking shelves.