Walmart tests automated system to help fill online grocery orders

Alphabot will retrieve and transport items to employees that package orders.

Walmart is testing out a new system that will help put together grocery orders placed by customers online. The service lets users order groceries, choose a pickup time and have their order delivered to their car, and the new automated system, called Alphabot, will take over some of the legwork that goes into collecting order items. It will automatically gather certain items from a location's storage area and transport them to employees who will then package the order.

The first Alphabot system will be tested at a supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire and Walmart expects it to be up and running by the end of the year. The company is currently adding a 20,000-square-foot extension to the store, which will house Alphabot and include drive-thru lanes for grocery pickup.

Alphabot is the latest technology to be tested by Walmart. Other pilots include shelf-scanning inventory robots, self-driving floor-scrubbing robots and a partnership with Waymo that provides autonomous vehicle transportation for grocery order pickup. Walmart has also been expanding its Pickup Tower feature as well as its grocery delivery service with the help of DoorDash and Postmates. Looking to the future, recent patents filed by the company include designs for smart carts, wearables, a drone and an audio surveillance system.

"Although this is a small pilot, we expect big things from it," Walmart said about Alphabot. "We have a lot to learn about this new technology, and we're excited about the possibilities of how we can use it to make the future of shopping -- and working -- even better."