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A future full of robot shopping trolleys?

Another day, another robot story. And more specifically, another Wal-Mart tech story. It seems the US retail giant is now working with Five Elements Robotics to develop a robotic shopping trolley.

Five Elements is the company behind Budgee, the $1,400 “friendly robot that carries your stuff”. Its CEO Wendy Roberts mentioned the new project yesterday during the Bloomberg Technology Conference.

Speaking as part of a panel on Robotics, she said the world’s largest retailer is currently evaluating a prototype (although whether she was meant to tell us about it is unknown, as Wal-Mart itself wouldn’t comment when Bloomberg jumped on the news and contacted it later).

Apparently, the robotic trolley is designed to help customers find the items on their shopping lists and save them from having to push a heavy shopping trolley around both in-store and in the car park.

OK, the benefits of yet another labour-saving device in a western world battling obesity are open to question. But for the less mobile and for those of us who struggle to find anything in sprawling superstores, the trolley would have obvious appeal.

It would have some obvious challenges too, particularly if Wal-Mart wanted to roll out something like this widely (the prospect of abandoned robotic shopping trolleys dumped in the canal springs to mind). But one thing is clear, it’s one of many options retailers are trying as they both embrace and fight back against the rise of online shopping.

Alongside enhanced face-to-face service and more exciting in-store experiences, retailers and brands are also making the most of technology in their physical stores to battle the growth of pureplay giants like Amazon.

In recent weeks Wal-Mart has announced a raft of tech tests that should transform its operations within a few years. Robot shopping trolleys may seem a bit sci-fi now, but in 10 years’ time they could be as ‘normal’ as smartphone shopping is today.

This post first appeared on Trendwalk.net, a style-meets-business blog by journalist, trends specialist and business analyst, Sandra Halliday