Walmart Patented A Self-Driving Shopping Cart

Photograph of a Wal-Mart store exterior in Laredo, Texas) 4 photos
Photo: Photograph taken by Jared C. Benedict on 22 February 2004.
Standard shopping cart, picture taken at a Wegman's store in NYA row of parked shopping carts equipped with coin-operated locking mechanismsPhotograph of a Wal-Mart store exterior in Laredo, Texas)
WalMart, the chain that needs no introduction, has applied for a patent for what appears to be an autonomous shopping cart.
The American shopping giant has imagined a complete ecosystem, from store to end-user, which would allow a container of purchase to travel from a designated space to a customer, follow the shopper, and drive back to its place after it becomes empty again. In other words, WalMart has thought of a way to make shopping carts autonomous.

These vehicles would operate using a multitude of sensors, but their primary advantage would be the knowledge of the “map.” Since none of the vehicles would leave WalMart’s parking lot, the company would not have to go to great lengths to make them independent or outstandingly smart.

Think about it - the fleet of autonomous shopping carts could be controlled seamlessly from a central node in each store, while each of the carts would drive itself after its human user.

Since people do not tend to be fast while walking through stores, the speed of operation would be humble, and they might make the cart even slower than average walking pace just to keep it safe.

The patent application already mentions the fact that the customer selects the cart with a “user interface device,” which could mean a smartphone with an app. The phone would only be used to identify and “tag” the client, so that the cart would know whom to follow.

Evidently, merely patenting an autonomous shopping cart will not make it a reality. Wal-Mart would probably not replace all of its carts with the self-driving units because of the costs that would be involved in the move. However, in the name of convenience, a few might be placed at every store once they will be available.

Expect them to be offered to customers that have locomotion deficiencies. In other words, if you can walk without assistance, you can probably push you shopping cart just fine. Otherwise, shopping might be a hassle and bring numerous impediments.
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 Download: Walmart patent application (PDF)

About the author: Sebastian Toma
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Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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