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Walmart highlights tech advances in distribution

A drone with a mounted camera capable of processing 30 images per second took flight in a Wal-Mart Stores distribution center Thursday morning.

The device, capable of taking inventory of the 1.2-million-square-foot facility in a single day when it would take manual checkers a month, was among several new technologies promising to bring greater efficiency to distribution for the world's largest retailer, company officials said during a tour of the Bentonville, Ark., facility as part of the company's Shareholders Week.

The drone is currently in test mode, but officials are hopeful that it could be expanded to additional sites in six to nine months, said Shekar Natarajan, VP of last mile, emerging sciences and strategic planning for Walmart, during a demonstration of the technology. The device reads product bar codes and shelving to make certain the items in the center are in their proper bays, and signals when items are misplaced. The process is currently accomplished manually, and requires workers wearing safety harnesses riding a lift to see the tops of the massive merchandise racks.


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Natarajan noted that Walmart was open to the possibility of using the self-propelled fliers to tackle additional supply chain issues "where it makes the most sense."

Elsewhere in the center, which services Supercenters and Neighborhood Market stores with nonperishable goods, packages passed through a machine known as an ACL 6, capable of generating and affixing labels to 700 cases an hour — or more than twice as fast as workers could manually.

Walmart also demonstrated newly installed hydrogen fueling stations for fork lifts allowing for faster refueling and more efficiency than battery powered units they replaced.

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