Back in 1937, the owner of an Oklahoma grocery chain called Humpty Dumpty was thinking of ways to get his clients to buy more stuff at his stores. His solution was as ingenious as it was it was practical: a large metal basket with little wheels. It could be filled to the brim with product upon product, then easily pushed to the checkout counter.
Today, Sylvan Goldman is remembered as the inventor of the shopping cart—a technology which has remained largely unchanged since its creation. But that may not be the case for much longer, as the good folks at Walmart are seeking to reinvent the swivel wheel by creating a mobile fleet of automated shopping carts that can be controlled by a smartphone, CNN reports.
According to a patent application made by Walmart and granted by the US government last week, the prototype shopping carts would be pimped out with detachable motors, video cameras, and sensors, which would allow shoppers to summon their cart with a "user interface device" like a tablet or phone.
In other words, your unmanned shopping cart could find you in the store, hopefully avoiding human toes and other carts, and take care of all of that exhausting pushing for you. And while pushing shopping carts is probably one of the only forms of exercise that sedentary, consumerist Americans engage in on a regular basis, the time may have come to let machines undertake even this minimally demanding task.
But the carts envisioned by Walmart are about way more than minimizing physical exertion. The smart carts will also be able to tell humans working at the stores which of them are unattended and return to a docking station on their own, which could have huge implications for inventory. They would also be able to tell customers where items are located inside of airplane hangar-sized Walmarts.
While patent approval hardly means that a design will go into production, it does mean that it could be time to revamp the shopping cart after almost 100 years of the consistency. And, as with any case of mechanization of labor, humans will inevitably be replaced, meaning that the time-honored summer job of pushing carts in the parking lot could soon be obsolete.