Shopping is about to get a whole lot smarter with connected carts

The carriage of tomorrow may reduce shopping times, cut down waiting in lines and offer a personalized experience. 

What do you do when you’re tired of having to schlep around a shopping cart aisle after aisle? You create an autonomous one that will carry out the tedious task for you! Or, you make them smarter at the very least.

Well, that’s what a pair of new projects have done, one by a team of students at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the other from UK product development group Cambridge Consultants. Not only will these come in handy as you make your way up and down the grocery store each week, it can keep you from having to stop mid-aisle for a free hand to check off an item on your list, and can even prevent the transmission germs during flu season. What’s more, it doesn’t have to be limited to marketplaces either. The cart can prove to be useful throughout airports, libraries, malls and college campuses.


First, following a similar premise as we’ve seen floating orbs capable of following and replaying human activity before, Makers Ohad Rusnak and Omri Elmalech have devised a slick self-driven shopping cart using a 3D Kinect sensor, a 3D camera and an Arduino Mega 2560 (ATmega2560). Through the duo’s self-developed computer vision algorithm, the system’s 3D camera can accurately identify and follow the cart’s owner as they make their way about the supermarket, while the embedded Arduino is responsible for controlling all the movement, sensing and tracking.


“I think in the future, a few years from now, we’ll see something like this in the supermarkets,” Rusnak says.

More recently, Cambridge Consultants showed off its latest connected cart concept that, by being fitted with low-cost sensors and Bluetooth Smart, can tell a retailer where you are in a store within three feet. The embedded technology, which would appear to be much more commercial-ready than the aforementioned project, can pinpoint the cart’s whereabouts so shop owners can offer location-based promotions and eliminate checkout lines in real-time. It also means fewer carts will leave the parking lot, too. For stores, this could drastically cut the multi-million-dollar annual cost of lost carriages as businesses could set alerts when they were being removed from their premises.


“The latest innovation is a small device that fits on the wheel of each trolley – and doesn’t need batteries as it is powered via energy harvesting from the rotation of the wheel. Costs are kept to a minimum by using commercially available low-cost sensors and connectivity that allows the data to be managed on a hosted server,” the firm writes.

Aside from enabling stores to target customers with relevant offers as they browse the aisles, data from smart carts could be used by retailers to understand better what their customers decide not to buy – it could help highlight areas where customers stopped to browse but did not purchase anything. Privacy advocates may also take comfort in knowing that the cart is being tracked opposed to the shopper’s smartphone.

“This is the latest example of our work in the fields of connected devices, data analytics and integrated systems across a range of sectors and with clients around the world. Connected product development has a crucial role to play in securing – and maintaining – competitive advantage in the fast-moving retail industry,” Cambridge Consultants concludes.

We couldn’t agree more. This can and will be an extremely cool concept to see catch on. So, how long before we see these roaming robotic trolleys around your nearest Target, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s?

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