Walmart files patent for stress-tracking cart handle

Dive Brief:

  • A Walmart patent application for a biometric feedback shopping cart handle was recently published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, CBInsights reports. The cart handles could track the heart rates, body temperatures and stress levels of customers, possibly averting serious health issues in the stores.
  • A server located in the store would receive biometric data about the shopper from the cart handle and combine it with baseline data gathered when the person first gets the cart. It could then perform an analysis, determine if a store associate should check on the well-being of that shopper, and then relay that information to the employee through an Associate Call System, the patent application said.
  • The server could also analyze data from multiple carts and customers to determine if something in a certain part of the store needs to be addressed by one or more associates. More possible attributes include tracking the weight and speed of the cart, and relaying that information to a fitness app on the customer's mobile device; tracking the time since the customer last touched the handle, possibly alerting a safety check; and a pulse oximeter may be used to measure the customer's oxygen saturation, according to the patent application

Dive Insight:

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.

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