The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart is set to begin experimenting with robotic shopping carts in order improve customer experience.
According to reporting by Bloomberg, the company is working with robotics firm Five Elements Robotics in order to develop these carts.
The carts themselves will reportedly function as an assistant for the customer, able to find goods, and then transport them without needing to be manually pushed.
While Wal-Mart is yet to officially confirm the development of the robot, a prototype device is reportedly in the testing phase.
Five Elements Robotics already produces consumer robots, aimed at helping people with day-to-day tasks.
It is highly likely that the robot being prototyped with Wal-Mart is a variant or evolution of its Budgee robot, a wheeled system designed to follow a user around while carrying a bag of items.
Currently no information exists however on when this technology will hit the store, or indeed how many of these robots the company plans to deploy.
Competition from online stores
Part of the reason Wal-Mart is keen to invest in these new technologies, is it is now in direct and fierce competition with online retailers like Amazon.
These companies already use significant automation throughout their supply and delivery chains, meaning that Wal-Mart will need to work hard to catch up.
Beyond these robotic shopping carts, the retailer has also is testing the use of drones for the delivery of goods as well as warehouse monitoring.
Automated item picking
One critical task which the robotic shopping cart still needs human input for is the visual identification of a product on a shelf, and the manual removal of it from its storage space before it goes in the robotic cart.
Online retailers face a similar problem in that they still hire vast workforces to ‘pick’ items form shelves in distribution warehouses.
As such there is now a technological race for the development of a more advanced robotic system able to perform this task better (or more economically) than a human laborer.
Whichever company manages to implement this tech first would see a significant business advantage over its competitors.