Retail giant Walmart now thinks of itself as a tech company — but it’s not putting all its eggs in Silicon Valley.
The company announced today that it is opening an emerging technologies office in Dallas, Texas. Thirteen employees have already been hired at the office, and the company expects to hire roughly 32 more by year’s end. Walmart’s vice president of tech modernization Chris Enslin made the announcement onstage at VentureBeat’s Blueprint conference in Reno, Nevada.
Employees at the Dallas office will be conducting research in machine learning, computer vision, and IoT.
“We have a vast amount of data that we haven’t truly democratized or captured the value out of it to create new products,” Enslin said, discussing the opportunity Walmart sees in investing in these emerging technologies.
In a phone interview last week week discussing the new office, Walmart director of engineering and Dallas office lead Carlos Riojas told VentureBeat that the company chose Dallas due to its proximity to a number of universities, including the University of Texas at Dallas and Baylor University, its attractiveness to young professionals, and Walmart’s preexisting presence in the city. The company has more retail stores in Dallas-Fort Worth than any other U.S. market.
“Dallas is a big area to recruit from for even some of the schools that may be on the coasts, or other places in the Midwest. It’s a desirable city for a lot of those college graduates,” Riojas said.
Enslin said that one way Walmart is looking to tap into this university talent is by leasing space on the UT at Dallas campus. Walmart is employing some PhD students — 2 or 3 of whom have already been hired to work in the Dallas office.
“We want this to become a feeder into [the Dallas office] as we develop it,” Enslin said at Blueprint.
Riojas said that one project the emerging technologies office in Dallas is currently working on is determining how to use computer vision to detect spills in store aisles more quickly. Riojas said that the office started its proof-of-concept testing this week at 40 stores, collecting videos and images to begin training their computer vision models.
“We rely on rely on physical inspections to do this today, and have a huge opportunity to automate it,” Riojas said.
The office will also explore how to user machine learning to aid with internal company matters, such as determining where the optimal location for a new Walmart store is based on traffic patterns and weather data, Riojas said.
While Walmart does have a large presence in Silicon Valley — the company said it has roughly 2,000 “technologists” between offices in Sunnyvale and San Bruno — Enslin said that he thinks the affordability of Dallas will make it easier for the office to retain talent.
Walmart also opened a second emerging technologies office this year in nearby Austin, which expects to have around 50 employees by year’s end.
The official opening of the Dallas office is April 5.