Walmart's proposed system would potentially be able to track and identify health issues among its customers, and much more than that, including possible environmental changes in certain parts of the store. Walmart could potentially glean information about how customers are feeling, how they're reacting to their surroundings and other stressors or factors. CBInsights noted that it could alert stores to arguments or fights between customers, or possible broken merchandise in an aisle.
Whether the retailer ultimately implements such a costly system companywide is an open question. The patent application says the data would not be linked to specific shoppers. "It is noted that the biometric data and the cart movement data collected during the use of the shopping cart is not tied or otherwise linked to the identity of the individual customer," the company said in its patent application. But this does raise the question of whether this technology might prove too creepy or invasive for customers already concerned about privacy.
Walmart has published 1,419 patent applications since 2009, so few are likely to be put into practice, CNBC noted. Some of these include virtual reality shopping technologies, and it was awarded a patent for in-store audio monitoring of store activities. One that is now being piloted is Alphabot robotics to increase the speed of online grocery pickup, developed as a collaboration between Walmart and startup Alert Innovation. Autonomous robots that scan up and down aisles for out-of-stock items, mis-priced products, and incorrect or missing labels are now being used in 50 Walmart stores. The retailer has also tested a prototype automated robotic shopping cart from Five Elements Robotics that helps customers shop, move through the checkout process and then out to the parking lot without having to push the cart themselves.