Over the past few months, a Walmart neighbourhood market in Levittown, New York, has been quietly transforming—with artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled cameras, interactive displays and a data centre—to what the company calls its new Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL). It is a shopping environment designed to explore AI’s possible contribution to the store experience. Testing new, innovative ideas within a real store containing over 30,000 items is an opportunity that IRL chief executive officer Mike Hanrahan finds exhilarating, according to a Walmart statement.

“When you combine all the information we’re gathering in IRL with Walmart’s 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates,” says Hanrahan.

IRL is set up to gather information about what is happening inside the store through an impressive array of sensors, cameras and processors. All this hardware is connected through cables. This equipment will help the team focus on product inventory and availability and associates will know more precisely when to restock products. IRL will be in a data-gathering mode in its early days. The focus will be on learning from the technology and not implementing changes to operations in haste.