By: Ishita Goel
March 16 2023
AI-based shelf cameras that monitor product stocks have been falsely claimed to be a system to control people as part of the 15-minute city plan.
Social media users are sharing a video showing small cameras placed over refrigerator shelves of Walmart stores, claiming these are part of the 15-minute city plan. In the video, an unseen speaker points at the cameras, claiming to be at a Walmart in London, Canada, and questions their necessity. She alleges there are cameras at the milk, meat, and egg sections within that store and present in all other Walmart stores.
Several Facebook and Twitter users captioned the video with, "Welcome to the 15-minute city. If you have exceeded your limit of meat, dairy, and eggs, the digital entrance gates won't open for you. Location: London, Canada. Soon to be in all the stores." The posts implied that these cameras were intended to monitor people and their consumption of these food items.
The urban planning concept of the 15-minute city has become a target for conspiracy theorists, many of whom have connected it to the World Economic Forum's Great Reset initiative and claim that the government is trying to control city residents.
It is important to note that while several U.K.-based Facebook users have shared the post, the store in the video is not in London, U.K. The U.K. does not have any Walmart-branded stores. The unseen speaker mentions the location of the store as London with a North American accent, and the logo of the supermarket chain can be seen clearly. Additionally, there are several instances of "100% Canadian" written above products, and the Canadian national symbol of a maple leaf can be frequently seen, thus it is clearly a Walmart in Canada.
The equipment seen is an artificial intelligence (AI) solution for stock-keeping. Walmart Canada's website explains that the stores use an AI-assist in stocking shelves to provide customers with the best shopping experience. The vision cameras/shelf cameras are from Focal Systems, a company that automates out-of-stock detection.
In September 2022, Walmart posted an announcement on LinkedIn about the rollout of the AI system, sharing a video showing the shelf cameras and how it works. This was reposted by the CEO of Focal Systems, Francois Chaubard, who wrote, "Walmart chooses Focal Systems Shelf Cameras for 400+ store rollout! The largest rollout of Computer Vision in retail ever!"
On their website, Focal explains that their cameras scan shelves hourly, allowing stores to know precisely what is in stock. The camera scans in intervals, and when a product goes out of stock, it triggers replenishment through Walmart's existing inventory systems. The cameras seen in the viral video appear to be the same as in the Walmart and Focal Systems imagery. This clarifies the camera is not a human-monitoring system but a stock-keeping AI system.
Logically has contacted Walmart regarding these cameras and the alleged link to the 15-minute city plan, but has yet to receive a response.
This is not the first AI system used by Walmart. In 2019, they introduced Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), which used cameras store-wide to monitor product stocks. AP reported in May 2019 that the cameras "do not recognize faces, determine the ethnicity of a person picking up a product, or track the movement of shopper."
Logically has debunked several claims around the 15-minute city concept proposed and developed by French urbanist Carlos Moreno. The plans aim for neighborhoods where all the necessities of daily life — shops, schools, workplaces, doctor's offices, parks, libraries, restaurants, and other amenities — are within a short 15-minute walk or bike ride from home. The concept does not aim to control and restrict people's freedoms.
The shelf cameras seen in the video are not a monitoring system to limit consumption limits; they are a stock-keeping AI system. Further, 15-minute city residents are not limited to consuming specific meat, dairy, or egg quantities. Therefore, this is a false claim.