Food News

Self-Driving Shopping Carts May Be the Way of the Future

September 15, 2016

First, self-driving cars. Next, self-driving shopping carts?

According to Quartz, the retail giant Walmart filed a patent application in March for "a Roomba-esque motorized device attached to the underside of a shopping cart."

What would this smart shopping cart be good for, besides making securing groceries feel like playing a video game? Shoppers could use their phones to rule the world communicate with the internet-connected device, which is itself connected to a central computer that enables it to roam through the store using sensors.

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That means that if you're looking for manuka honey and can't find an employee to tell you to check aisle five (right next to the five kinds of turmeric), your shopping cart can guide you there.

Imagine the possibilities: One day, you might be able to program a particular recipe—or dietary restriction, or meal plan—into your shopping cart-computer-robot-mobile and then follow the cart around as it takes you from ingredient to ingredient.

You could also play shopping cart bumper car, though that seems potentially dangerous. We'd also imagine that grocery stores will need a redesign if carts are going to start steering themselves. In New York, at least, store aisles are so narrow that basket-carrying consumers can barely get by without knocking over displays of bagged nuts.

And how fast would these things operate, anyway? Would they be moving slowly enough that an innocent, olive oil-gazing civilian could dive out of the way? And, as our copywriter Olivia Bloom put it, "Until the shopping cart can actually take things off the shelf for you, what is the actual point?" Will we all be following our carts around like lost puppies?

But we've got to hold our horses: Companies file for patents all the time and even when a patent is granted, it does not mean it is being actively developed.

So Walmart (and other grocery stores, too!), please put the whole self-driving thing on hold for the moment. Here are the shopping cart improvements we'd like to see first:

  • Baguette holder, wine holder, flower bouquet holder
  • A penned-off, pillowy area for fragile berries and ripe avocados
  • Eye-pleasing tags (or bows?) that distinguish one cart from the next so that fellow shoppers don't accidentally run away with a carefully curated selection
  • Wheels with 360° rotation, akin to those fancy suitcases that make air travel fun
  • Invisible force fields to prevent bumping (that's an easy fix, right?)
  • Long foldable metal arms affixed with grabbers at the end (for stealing the oft-sold-out cookie butter from the carts of those lucky enough to get it)
  • A corn scanner that will monitor the unhusked, fully-clothed ears to check for any funny business (and save you from committing the faux pas of unpeeling)
  • How about a convenient place to store reusable bags?
  • A horn? A bell? Maybe that's a terrible idea...

What's your biggest shopping cart pet peeve? Kvetch in the comments below.

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1 Comment

BerryBaby September 15, 2016
All great ideas! Here's what I came up with for my reusable bags years ago. I use a plastic round shower ring. You can buy a box of them for a dollar or two and they can be used for many things. I hooked the handles through the ring and then attach the ring to the shopping cart handle. Keeps them secure and gives you room in the cart. I NEVER use the baby seat. In fact, I strap it closed with the seat belt so the clerks can't place anything in it. Talk about disgusting, dirty and germy! I use a 'buggy' bag that connects to inside the cart. Bought them over 10 years ago from a company in England. Your groceries never have to touch the cart.