Walmart expands use of BrainOS-powered autonomous robots

A BrainOS-powered autonomous floor scrubber cleaning a Walmart store. (Credit: Brain Corp.)

Walmart has been testing Brain Corp.’s BrainOS-powered autonomous floor cleaners for more than a year. Now it looks like the two companies are ready to take their relationship to the next level.

By the end of Walmart’s fiscal year, January 31, 2019, the world’s largest retailer will have 360 BrainOS-powered machines cleaning its floors across the United States. This is a significant increase. At press time, the companies said that BrainOS “automates more than a hundred” autonomous floor scrubbers for Walmart.

The expanded use of the cleaning robots will help Walmart automate repetitive tasks and free up the time of human workers.

“We’re excited to work with Brain Corp in supporting our retail operations and providing our associates with a safe and reliable technology,” said John Crecelius, Walmart’s VP of Central Operations. “BrainOS is a powerful tool in helping our associates complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks within role and spend more time serving customers.”

A human needs to initially teach the BrainOS-powered machines the layout of the stores. But after that initial demonstration, BrainOS’ combination of off-the-shelf hardware, sensors, and software kick in to enable the floor scrubbers to navigate autonomously. Brain employs a collection of cameras, sensors and LiDAR to ensure safety and obstacle avoidance. All the robots are connected to a cloud-based reporting system that allows them to be monitored and managed.

“Any crowded, indoor environment, not necessarily specific to Walmart, will present challenges through its own unique set of edge cases,” Dr. Eugene Izhikevich, CEO of San Diego-based Brain Corp, told The Robot Report. “Flashing lights, glass reflections, particles kicked up by wind – these environmental nuances, often well beyond our control, have the capacity to communicate a false positive to a robot. The robot will then stop when nothing is actually in front of it.

Must-Read: 5 Challenges When Creating Autonomous Navigation Systems

“Brain Corp has seen thousands of these edge cases through its deployments and has developed a comprehensive library of AI filters. These filters allow machines to operate smoothly and effectively in any indoor space – regardless of unique, environmental inputs.”

Izhikevich tells The Robot Report that Brain Corp is exploring other types of mobile applications, including delivery, eldercare, security and more. Brain Corp. recently led a $13.4 million Series B for Savioke, which makes autonomous delivery robots. For years, Savioke built its autonomous navigation stack from scratch using ROS. Going forward, Savioke will integrate the BrainOS platform.

“We want to focus on areas where Savioke can be unique, not on areas where we don’t have a competitive advantage,” said Savioke founder and CEO Steve Cousins. “Brain Corp. is doing some interesting stuff that is potentially game-changing in terms of the cost. They’re able to command volume pricing on sensors that we can’t. And they’re engineering things to fit together nicely.”

“While there are valuable tools out there for robotics developers – ROS, of course, comes to mind – getting a robot to move around safely and efficiently in a crowded space is incredibly difficult,” said Izhikevich. “BrainOS can save a company a substantial amount of R&D by immediately providing it with proven, foundational robotics technology, including autonomous navigation, AI libraries, data management andcloud storage.”

Izhikevich said Brain Corp. is “keen to partner with more robotics companies over the next few years.” It recently partnered with Softbank Robotics on the company’s new Whizz robot, which also happens to be an autonomous floor cleaner. The Whiz robot will go on sale in Japan in February 2019 under a robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model for $222 per month.

“The flexibility of BrainOS has been proven with the launch of Whizz – a much smaller form factor than seen in Brain Corp’s original commercial scrubber efforts,” said Izhikevich.

Of course, the Softbank Vision Fund led Brain Corp.’s $114 million funding round in mid-2017. So one thing to keep an eye on, perhaps, is whether the Whizz robot will eventually replace or cut into Brain’s partnerships with commercial floor cleaning companies. When asked, Izhikevich said “Brain Corp can’t comment on SoftBank Robotics plans for Whizz other than that they are currently planning on rolling out in Japan in early 2019.”

In the past two years, Walmart has embraced dozens of technologies to lower its costs, increase operational efficiency, and better compete with Amazon and other e-commerce competitors. One of the technologies Walmart is turning to is robotics. Take a look at five robots Walmart has been testing.

Softbank Whizz Robot

SoftBank’s Whiz autonomous floor cleaning robot. (Credit: Bloomberg)

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