Walmart patrons might soon be using shopping carts that think and move by themselves. The retail giant has acquired approval for patent that will help create robotic shopping carts for its many stores. The cart upgrade hopes to make shopping a better experience both for shoppers and Walmart employees.
According to the patent application published by Popular Science, Walmart has several purposes for giving their carts artificial intelligence:
"Available employees may not be fully trained or have access to information to adequately support customers. Other routine tasks also are difficult to keep up with, particularly during peak hours. For example, shopping carts are left abandoned, aisles become messy, inventory is not displayed in the proper locations or is not even placed on the sales floor, shelf prices may not be properly set, and theft is hard to discourage."
The proposed cart won't look any different from a regular cart, but it will have a "motorized transport unit" installed under it, which will be responsible for movement, even without physical contact. The robotic unit, which looks like a small disc, will be summoned from storage and attach itself under the cart, ready for use. Shoppers can then "tell" the cart what they need and the cart would guide them to where it is. The cart can even suggest a related item which may lead to an effective cross-sell.
The patent also describes a "control circuit", which means that sensors will be installed around the store and used to give track carts that are not in use. Abandoned carts can be placed back to their docks.
While this may seem like an immediate development, it's important to note that patents usually take time to execute, if it comes to that at all. In a time where artificial intelligence is making its way to retail, it's not a surprise that physical stores like Walmart will want to get it on the action, but whether or not shoppers are ready for a know-it-all cart remains to be seen.