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Walmart Planning Self-Driving Shopping Carts

The real shopping delight

The universe keeps gifting us with more ways to do a sum total of nothing every day. Not laziness, per-se, more along the lines of energy conservation. Yes, that’s it — energy conservation. Walmart decided that simply motorized shopping carts put too much stress on their customers, so guess what they just rolled out? That’s right, fully automated shopping carts. This means that now you no longer have to go all the way to fetch your cart; your cart comes to you. Almost as if you were calling a cab, yes?

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The Mechanism – Self-driving shopping carts

The mechanism is pretty simple;

  • The carts themselves do not change. Instead, there are motorized transport units, equipped with cameras and relevant sensors, and controlled by a central computer in the Walmart shop. Skynet, if you would. These motorized transport units are tasked with bringing the shopping carts from wherever they are to the customer.
  • The customer has a controlling device, either a smartphone app or a little controller provided by Walmart. This controller serves as an indicator for both the customer’s need of a shopping cart, and as a sort of pseudo-tracker to indicate the customer’s current location. Also included in the controller unit is a user interface of sorts. This program acts as anything between a controller for the motorized transport mechanism and a nifty little shopping guide. Rather than search for items on your list by walking across aisles, it would, theoretically of course, allow you to just type in the name of the item, and see both descriptions and the exact location.
  • When the controller is activated, it sends signals to the central computer, which in turn directs the motorized transport unit most relevant to the customer’s current location to fetch a shopping cart.
  • The motorized travelling unit moves over to the cart and ‘docks’ by sliding under it. Following instructions by the central computer, it navigates both itself and the cart to the customer’s location. The customer can then choose to either have it disengage from the cart or remain in place, to receive further instructions.

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The need for self-driving shopping carts

Walmart’s reason for this innovation is quite straightforward — customer satisfaction. The company says that high turnover rate of employees may inadvertently lead to staff who cannot properly handle situations involving shopping carts, probably due to a lack of adequate training. Situations like that may create busy aisles and the likes, ultimately resulting in a much avoided case of customer dissatisfaction. Of course, having a means of controlling shopping carts remotely both reduces the work load of employees and ensures that all carts can be accounted for. A win-win scenario for all the parties involved.

Most importantly, it should be noted that this is only still just a patent — just a working idea, so don’t go to the Walmart closest to you in the hopes of not fetching your own cart; you’d be sorely disappointed. Not right now, anyways.

Sounds a bit futuristic, but it’s quite incredible to see what mundane technology involving wheels has evolved into. At this point, it wouldn’t really be a shock to see malls where the items come to you by their respectful selves. It would, frankly, but in five years time? Maybe ten? Technology can only keep developing and the future looks particularly bright.

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