You're moving through Walmart at a quick clip, bookin’ it through the clearance bread aisle. Sweat beads on your forehead, and your hands grip the cart handle. It’s a race against time before you run into an elementary school classmate’s mom or run into that guy you made out with in high school and his three kids. God, get me out of h—
I saw you might need assistance! An employee appears from behind the off-brand tampons and accosts you. He knows this because he’s been monitoring your biometric data and location from a room in the back, from the sensors in your cart handle. The sensors told him you’re clammy and stressed.
Walmart recently applied to patent biometric shopping handles that would track a shopper’s heart rate, palm temperature, grip force, and walking speed. The patent, titled “System And Method For A Biometric Feedback Cart Handle” and published August 23, outlines a system where sensors in the cart send data to a server. That server then notifies a store employee to check on individual customers.
Over time, the server can build a database of data compared against store location and stress response, the patent says—potentially valuable information for store planning.
Other uses outlined in the patent include a pulse oximeter, for detecting when a customer’s about to pass out, and a weight-triggered assisted push feature for propelling the cart itself.
Technology news blog CBInsights suggests that these alerts could warn associates when several shoppers need help at the same time, or anticipate when arguments are about to break out. I find this use-case questionable at best. If that’s what the company’s planning, I’m not sure whomever wrote this patent has even been in a Walmart fight. In theory, the patent assumes that everyone’s firmly gripping their carts in an aisle-based altercation. In practice, these hands are not staying on the cart.
Although, hypothetically, if I were to gear up to turn my cart of boxed wine and bread into a battering ram, the biometrics outlined here—grip, heart rate, cart speed—would certainly be useful for a watchful employee. But once a shopper’s gone rogue (or jumped into a fight), an associate probably wouldn’t need to know their heart rate to figure out shit’s going down.