Shopping Terminator

Smart Shopping: Smarter Carts to be tested at Whole Foods in April; robot takeover to follow

Smart Shopping: Smarter Carts to be tested at Whole Foods in April; robot takeover to follow

To prove that the world will indeed come to an end come December 2012, Whole Foods will be testing out smart shopping carts, or Smarter Carts, at their stores in April.

According to GeekWire, Microsoft first demo-ed the device, which is still in its first few weeks of development, on Monday at its Redmond, Washington, headquarters where the cart was still in its early stages. You can watch the demo in the video above. Although the technology used in the cart is primarily from Microsoft, Wired reports that the masterminds behind the device are actually researchers from Austin’s very own Chaotic Moon.

But what exactly is a “Smarter Cart,” you ask? Well, think of it as your personal shopping assistant that follows you around the store, except in cart form. The Smarter Cart is tentatively equipped with a Microsoft Kinect sensor bar, a Windows 8 tablet, a UPC scanner and a motor to help you get through the first world pains of grocery shopping.

As Wired explains it, the cart will use RFID (Radio-frequency identification) technology to “read items off of a smart-card shopping list, and then make recommendations to shoppers, using a speech and voice recognition as the interface.”

In other words, shoppers will be able to load the cart with their grocery list and the cart will in turn tell the customer where in the store the products are located. The cart can even help shoppers be health-conscious, asking whether or not the shopper may have wanted the gluten-free version of a product instead. Once finished, the shopper can actually skip the checkout lines and pay for their groceries right at the cart. 

Wired also reports that so far, 30 Austinites have been able to take the Smarter Cart out for a test, but come April 1, Chaotic Moon will begin testing even more carts at the grocery store.

Sure, it all looks and sounds convenient in theory, but as you may have seen in the video, there are obvious kinks that still needs to be worked out. One of the more important questions that will need to be addressed is how the cart will be able to navigate through the store with other carts and patrons present as well as how the cart will be able to decipher between the different voices in a grocery store.

I’m sure these questions and many more will be answered after the test trials in April are complete and more research is done, but until then, what do you all think?

Do we really need shopping carts that help us with our groceries or will Smarter Carts be the thing that slowly but surely ensures a Wall-E type future for our society? 

Whole Foods Smarter Cart
A photo during the early testing stages of the Smarter Cart.  Courtesy of GeekWire
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