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Walmart Experimenting With Robotic Shopping Cart For Stores (bloomberg.com) 117

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Bloomberg: Bloomberg reports Walmart is working with a robotics company to develop a shopping cart that helps customers find items on their lists and saves them from pushing a heavy cart through a sprawling store and parking lot. The carts are a way for brick-and-mortar stores to stay relevant in the convenience factor to match the likes of Amazon and other online retailers, says founder and chief executive officer of Five Elements Robotics Wendy Roberts. She said on Tuesday at the Bloomberg Technology Conference 2016 that her company was working with the "world's largest retailer" on such a shopping cart. In 2014, Five Elements Robotics introduced Budgee, a personal robot that can follow its user around inside and outdoors and carry things. The robot costs $1,400 and is helpful for people with disabilities, says Roberts.
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Walmart Experimenting With Robotic Shopping Cart For Stores

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  • by ninthbit ( 623926 )
    We are almost there... just a little further to go till full Wall-E http://www.peopleofwalmart.com... [peopleofwalmart.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Shall we start the pool for how long after implementation it takes for one to be damaged by a fat person trying to ride it.

      captcha: disturbs

    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @08:34AM (#52321637)

      Why is it that shopping with a shopping cart and real shelves is so much easier and more pleasant than scrolling through most stores list of products on line. I've shopped food stores online, hardware stores online, which have real world analogs for direct comparison. All of these are okay if you know exactly what you are looking for and they have a tolerable search engine. But it terms of going down the isles and selecting new things or being reminded of old things and getting ideas for new creations stores are efficient I think.

      I suppose you could let someone walk through a virtual store like a first person shooter. But Somehow that doesn't appeal to me.

      I think however an oculous might be able to recreate a true 3D store experience.

      • It's very difficult to evaluate fit & finish and other qualitative aspects of a product when shopping online. (E.g., is the text on the box in grammatically correct language, or some botched translation?) You can't evaluate fit and feel and color of clothing online.

        There are many interesting articles about how online retail actually suffers huge returns costs because of those things.

        VR isn't going to help with those aspects either, because a virtual good isn't going to be the same as a real physical go

        • by TigerPlish ( 174064 ) on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @11:06AM (#52322641)

          I dunno, man... I do most of my shopping online because I truly dislike the decline of retail. The sole exception is high-end goods in small stores.

          So. On to the online bit: By carefully using the image zoom (if available), reading between the lines of the reviews (a lot of which are shills, some real, and some just rants), and cross-referencing with Google search results, one can make a reasonable guess at how good that product is.

          It is very rare for me to get a sub-par, unexpectedly crappy product online. I usually either get exactly what I expected, or in some cases be blown away by how much better than expected it is.

          The one thing I've ran into problems with is shoes: I've had more defects and more "damn it's too small" moments with shoes than with anything else.

          Retail is dead. I savor every single stake I drive into it's bleeding heart. Wal-Mart destroyed the small retailer, then let's help Amazon take down Wal-mart.

          We'll figure out how to take down Amazon and bring back the Main Street experience later on. This also needs to be done, Amazon is just as abusive as Wal-Mart, the difference is Amazon customers don't put up with the staff and customers.

          What, no one remembers that? Life before the Big Boxes? What a shame. It was a nice experience. You had the guy that sold records, the girl who sold books, the old couple who ran the tailor's and dry-clean, the awesome electronics store where the tech in the back had a cigarette *and* a hot soldering iron on a glass ashtray..

          We'll never get that back. And that makes my heart ache a bit.

      • In most cases, people would be better off not "browsing" either lists on websites or physical aisles in stores in the first place. Instead, they should decide what they need to buy before hand and get only the things on that list -- they'd save a lot of money that way.

        From that perspective, this motorized shopping cart is a solution looking for a problem. A better idea would just be to close the aisles to people and have the carts be robotic pickers that deliver everything to the customer waiting at checkou

        • Hmmm, yes. And you could program them to "accidentally" pass by the promo displays.

          Of course, automated shoppers is just part 1. Expect part 2 to be automated stockers. Followed by container bays so that all the automated Wall-Mart trucks have to do is back up the their assigned aisle in the store dock.

          In the end, all that will be left are the greeters and the security guards.

      • "I suppose you could let someone walk through a virtual store like a first person shooter. "

        It better include the 2AM Walmart Zombies...

    • Oh but we cannot inconvenience these pillars of society!

    • Whomever modded you off-topic didn't understand your comment. I found it insightful.

      Wall-E was meant as an indictment of consumerism, and according to tvtropes, that is word-of-god.

      We are almost there... just a little further to go

      I wish it were. I think we're headed to Idiocracy, instead, which is the insulting, in-your-face version of Wall-E

      Yes, I know Idiocracy was first. They both share the same message. Idiocracy goes even further, explicitly stating humanity got real dumb real fast.

      How do we go about un-doing the economic rape of 1970's to today?

  • Is it good for people to consume food without having to expend any calories?
    • by gsslay ( 807818 )

      The big problem here is that Walmart's customers are still have the trauma of manually lifting the food into their gaping mouths. This robot needs added to it an arm with spoon.

  • Opposite (Score:4, Informative)

    by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @08:08AM (#52321527) Journal

    helps customers find items on their lists

    So the robot actually does the opposite of what stores want. Stores themselves like to make the customer take the least efficient way, because that brings the customer in contact with the most products. For the customers themselves, however, this might be useful.

    • The robot will most likely be advertising whats on offer as they go around

      "I think you should know we're doing a special on anti depressants at the moment! Would you like me to sit in the corner and rust or just fall apart where I'm standing?"

      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Which gets to what I hate about so much software these days: you end up fighting it because it has its own agenda. Software is seen by marketers not as tools for users to accomplish their own ends, but as a tool for the company to shape consumer behavior.

        When I started in this industry it was at a time when most people had never seen a computer, other than possibly Pong at the pinball parlor. We had a vision of software liberating people from drudgery -- and by in large that vision has succeeded beyond

    • Re:Opposite (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @08:20AM (#52321593)

      helps customers find items on their lists

      So the robot actually does the opposite of what stores want. Stores themselves like to make the customer take the least efficient way, because that brings the customer in contact with the most products. For the customers themselves, however, this might be useful.

      Well, if it helps people find things on their list, it can also be programmed to take the customers on specific routes past target/impulse buy products. So if someone has on their list diapers it might take them past the baby clothes isle, or past the DVD section if someone is buying a new TV. Then of course there's the potential to inject "suggested purchases"(ads) in an attempt to push the customer into making even more purchases.

    • but the robot will also help walmart cut down on shelf stokers when the stores be come more like big robo where houses

    • Re:Opposite (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @09:02AM (#52321789)

      That probably depends upon the customer. The main reason why I go to Walmart is because I can be in an out in 10 minutes. At least for the store that I go to: the layout seems to put the most popular departments near the checkout, and the less frequented departments in the fringes. They also have a true express checkout lane (one line feeds six cashiers for people with small purchases).

      Sure, they want to snag impulse buys and they probably want to keep customers in the store longer to browser. On the other hand, impulse purchases don't require taking the lest efficient route. Getting customers in and out quickly is also in the store's best interest if it helps them retain customers. Remember, Walmart's business is to make money. Making money doesn't always mean going against the best interest of your customers.

      • That probably depends upon the customer. The main reason why I go to Walmart is because I can be in an out in 10 minutes. At least for the store that I go to: the layout seems to put the most popular departments near the checkout, and the less frequented departments in the fringes. They also have a true express checkout lane (one line feeds six cashiers for people with small purchases).

        That's weird; the Wal-Marts I've been to are exactly the opposite: the stuff I'm in there to buy (usually things like milk

        • by MacTO ( 1161105 )

          Perhaps it's the location that I go to. It's right next to a bus terminal and near a couple of major roads used by commuters. In other words, their customers are bound to be in a hurry. I'm also basing my assessment on where I see people in the store. For that location, milk is conveniently located and there is a lot of traffic in that part of the store. Motor oil is not conveniently located, but it doesn't seem to be an area that people frequent much either.

          • Perhaps it's the location that I go to. It's right next to a bus terminal and near a couple of major roads used by commuters. In other words, their customers are bound to be in a hurry. I'm also basing my assessment on where I see people in the store. For that location, milk is conveniently located and there is a lot of traffic in that part of the store. Motor oil is not conveniently located, but it doesn't seem to be an area that people frequent much either.

            It's the location. Here in South Florida, Walmart seems to be on a warpath to make their stores clean, organized and streamlined. There is one just in front of my office, and it used to be a dark, unorganized and crappy store sporting some very unhappy (and at times dimwitted employers). One I would avoid like the plague.

            The store (and others in the area) have been revamped. Stuff looks clean. Stuff is kept neat and organized, no longer in mounds at the base of aisles. Even the employees are very helpful.

    • You made the presumption that the path of finding items on the list will be the most direct or most efficient given store traffic and not the most profitable path that the customer will tolerate.
    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

      helps customers find items on their lists

      So the robot actually does the opposite of what stores want. Stores themselves like to make the customer take the least efficient way, because that brings the customer in contact with the most products. For the customers themselves, however, this might be useful.

      Who said it will take you on the most efficient route? In produce and need milk? Takes you there via hardware, electronics, and socks isles. All while holding your items hostage so you have to follow it.

      • helps customers find items on their lists

        So the robot actually does the opposite of what stores want. Stores themselves like to make the customer take the least efficient way, because that brings the customer in contact with the most products. For the customers themselves, however, this might be useful.

        Who said it will take you on the most efficient route? In produce and need milk? Takes you there via hardware, electronics, and socks isles. All while holding your items hostage so you have to follow it.

        Assuming that will be the case, that the robot takes a customer into a trip, it is still better than just not knowing where shit is. Even if it were to take me to the front and the to the back and then to the front, if the robot can tell me how and where to go to get A, B, C, and D, that is an improvement, a significant improvement.

        Changes are the robot will simply provide a map of the store showing where to find the things you desire, leaving you to chose the route.

    • So the obvious question - why have the customer go in the store at all if a robot is going to do the work of getting the items? With clothing and other wearable it might be necessary to go in, but certainly not for most prepackaged items. There are a number of ways this could dramatically change shopping.
    • helps customers find items on their lists

      So the robot actually does the opposite of what stores want. Stores themselves like to make the customer take the least efficient way, because that brings the customer in contact with the most products. For the customers themselves, however, this might be useful.

      This is not necessarily true, and hasn't been for a while. Stores, at least the efficient ones, go for customer experience, and group products according to how they get currently purchased. Publix stores are well organized with items in standardized aisle numbers. Even Walmart which, until recently, featured some really crappy stores where shit was simply piled up, they are getting their shit together into efficient displays.

      Many stores made customers take the least efficient way to products not by design

  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @08:08AM (#52321529) Journal
    Come on! I NEED to move around more, not LESS! It's hard enough sitting at computer desk all day in a cubicle. That 40lb box of cat litter provides me with free weight training. Plus Walmart stores are so BIG I can get my steps in.
    • You might think that way, but not that 400lbs assburger waddling down the aisles of WalMart that is the usual customer.

      Have you never wondered just why those shelves are so far apart that you could easily fit three normal people in between?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Because of inconsiderate shoppers who leave their cart in the middle of the aisle as they try to decide what flavor pringles they want?

        You know the ones. they give you dirty looks when they see you waiting for them to move. You used to get "Oh, i'm sorry excuse me," now its just a dirty look or them acting completely oblivious to you.

      • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @09:28AM (#52322015)

        Have you never wondered just why those shelves are so far apart that you could easily fit three normal people in between?

        It's so that carts being pushed in opposite directions can pass. You knew that, of course, but didn't say so because it ruins your joke.

        • by chihowa ( 366380 )

          It's so that carts being pushed in opposite directions can pass.

          Too bad it never seems to work that way in real life. I don't know about Walmart, but in every grocery I've been to the oblivious person in front of you just suddenly halts in the middle of the aisle and abandons their cart there, blocking all traffic in either direction.

          • Or the imbeciles that hold onto the side of the cart as they are walking down the aisle instead of pushing it. It should be legal to fling a can of beans at their heads.

          • Maybe it's different because I live in the South, where you say "excuse me" and they scoot their cart over (or you scoot it over yourself if they don't).

            • Maybe it's different 'cause I am in Europe, but people simply don't put their friggin' cart into the middle of the aisle. I know, consideration, what an outdated, odd concept.

  • So now I have to load all of this into my car, drive it home and unload it? Grocery shopping should be as difficult as registering for wedding registries. Give me a barcode scanner and let me walk through the store. When I check out let me schedule a delivery time.

  • It will be destroyed by the mob at Christmas who are trying to buy it
  • by clifwlkr ( 614327 ) on Wednesday June 15, 2016 @08:17AM (#52321579)
    Because Walmart shoppers already get so much exercise and are in such great shape that any form of exercise is not needed. I am saddened by the fact that we are now to the point where we consider pushing a shopping cart around the store to be too much work.

    How about scrapping the electric drive but keeping the locator aspect. That would seem to cut the costs dramatically while giving the greatest benefit. I really think most of the people I see in Walmart could use to push the cart themselves
    • Y'know, I was just in one last night, and most of the people there were normal. I especially noted two middle-aged women in nice sundresses who wore them well.

      But back in the toy section, there were two young women, each over 300 lbs, riding the electric scooters, with nothing in their baskets, pulling noisy toys off the shelves and setting off as many sounds as possible (especially fart machines). They were clearly there for sport, not shopping, and while they weren't hurting me, they sure did seem to be

    • Because Walmart shoppers already get so much exercise and are in such great shape that any form of exercise is not needed. I am saddened by the fact that we are now to the point where we consider pushing a shopping cart around the store to be too much work.

      That was my thought too, although I certainly do understand that some people might have a very legitimate need for such help. Like you, I'm having a hard time feeling sorry for people who's only disability is that they can't say "No" to a second or third piece of pie. Maybe Walmart should instead look into home delivery for the people for whom even walking from their front door to their car is just way too much effort.

    • I think that pushing a cart around makes it easier for me to shop. In fact I will always push a cart from the parking lot to the store. The hard part is getting the cat food and kitty liter from the shelf into the cart and than from the cart to the scanner and than back to the cart. I than must get the items from the cart into my car and finally from the car into my house. The new cart will not help with any of these chores but will take away the little support I get from pushing the cart. So even thou

    • I got the impression that these are, initially, intended for disabled shoppers rather than all customers due to the $1400 unit cost.

    • Because Walmart shoppers already get so much exercise and are in such great shape that any form of exercise is not needed. I am saddened by the fact that we are now to the point where we consider pushing a shopping cart around the store to be too much work. How about scrapping the electric drive but keeping the locator aspect. That would seem to cut the costs dramatically while giving the greatest benefit. I really think most of the people I see in Walmart could use to push the cart themselves

      OK, you are overthinking this shit. I'm going to give you an example from real life. I have two little kids, whom they want to be in the cart one time and out the next. With that and all other things related to kids, shopping is a chore. What you could do in 30 minutes becomes a 90 minutes ordeal. It is more difficult for my wife who is a lot smaller than I am (and we are both in good shape.)

      Mind you that we almost never shop at Walmart (we shop at Costco, Target, Publix or Whole Foods.)

      A shopping cart

      • I honestly can't see how you can't manage children while pushing a cart. People have been doing it for years. The cart moving around by itself is not a huge advantage here. If the kids are small enough, they are in the cart. If old enough, they are helping and learning and it is an experience. And yes, sometimes it might be a challenge, but that is what parenting is about. I already mentioned the mapping part was fine and useful.

        I would prefer the cost of my goods does not go up because of all the l
        • I honestly can't see how you can't manage children while pushing a cart.

          Reading comprehension. That is not what I said. I said that it is a chore, and sometimes an unpleasant one. Yes, people have been doing it for years, but ask any of them if they would prefer an easier way to do things. Yes, idiocracy is upon us, and it started when people forgot how to read.

    • You're missing the potential advantages. Once you have a robotic shopping which requires electricity to function it's a relatively minor step to properly train the shopper into good habits. Just add some image recognition software to pick on the weight of the shopper and add things like audible taunts and electric shocks such as "**shock** put the Cheetos back, fatty." For repeat offenders trick them into signing something digitally, copy the signature onto a form requesting liposuction and make sure the
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'd be happy to find a shopping cart at Walmart where all the wheels actually turn and don't make horrible screeching noises.

  • Here is what the shopping robots will look like. [nocookie.net]

    And here's a render of a typical Wal-Mart [wordpress.com] with the shop-bots in use.

    And a close up [infonegocios.info] of happy shoppers.

  • Ha, ha... ho, ho... ho, *snort*

    I've see the Budgee in action. Or more precisely, in inaction. Or random action. It is poorly designed, cheaply made, and the software is unreliable. Also, the industrial design aesthetic of two asymmetric "eyes" recalls "Bill-the-Cat" from the old Bloom County cartoon.

    Budgees shopping in Walmart == flying pigs.

  • The wal-marters will be riding in the robo-carts when no shopping chariots are available . #FirstWorldProblems
  • all I can say is, Hahahaha, Good luck with that.

    The only way this robot can lead a customer to an item is if that item is in it's correct place. Considering how these stores are actually run, it's becoming more and more often that the items simply aren't in their system recorded location. Either because the stockers are told to push everything out to keep the back rooms clean and empty, or because the people who set the locations are told to "approve" all location settings before the items are ever actual

  • Please Sign into your shopping cart usage account. Click here to register of you do not have an account. Provide name, address, DOB, SSN#, and a credit card# for validation.... input a valid email for verification.

  • 500 pounds, reclining like Jabba the Hutt on a sofa while a robot shovels food into their maw

  • If that's what it takes to replace the rusty, creaking contraptions at my local Walmart, than so be it. They do seem to have enough trouble maintaining the basic non-robotic kind, though.

  • Go to Google Images and enter "walmart shoppers" -- just don't do it immediately after eating!

    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pini... [pinimg.com]

  • ...it will end up broken in a corner. Shoppers will be forced to go back to the old way of doing things because Walmart won't provide the resources necessary to keep such a sophisticated system functional.
  • They can't be too far away from automated stocking of shelves. It won't be too long until the only people that need to be present in the store are the customers...
  • How many of these will be found at the bus stop blocks away from the store? Will they be able to return home on their own?

  • This could cut down on shopping rage too. Personally, I get very frustrated at crowded stores whenever some asshat parks his cart in the middle of the aisle with no consideration for how it affects other people.

    It would be great if people could just move about freely without their carts, while the carts negotiate routes amongst themselves and generally keep out of each other's way.

  • They would be better off adopting the four-wheel steering used in Ikea stores worldwide and everywhere in Europe and put actual fucking round wheels on the damn carts instead of what seem to be square stone wheels from a cave.

    Clunk clunk clunk clunk clunk BANG -if you get a cart with four DIFFERENT squared wheels, you can really get some funky beats going.

    And maybe the noise and racket from the cars bang-bang-banging their way through the store does kind of act like a sound beacon going beep-beep-beep on

  • like pay some cheap labor to put proper meta-tags on the item pages and then FIX Their website search engine

    it is currently impossible to reliably search on %item% By [price Low to High] with %available at #store#% and expect to see what you are looking for (the engine dumps itself and your search "matches" half the store)

  • Bubbles could do something pretty freakin' sweet with one of these mommas.
  • ...of a shopping card being pushed down the aisle by a grotesquely wide robot sporting a leopard skin paint job.

  • The inventor of the robot cart has lost its child's mind a long time ago. Don't you remember how fun it was to push a cart?

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