You know what the world will never need? A robot shopping cart. And yet that won’t stop Walmart, a company built on getting you to buy more, from deploying them in its stores. The cart is called the Dash, and it does a lot more than just following you around, pushing itself.
The Dash (slogan: “Changing the face of the shopping experience”) comes from Five Elements Robotics and is being evaluated by Walmart for possible in-store use. The auto-cart actually guides you around the store, helping you to find the products on your list, and then takes your groceries out to the car park, where you can load up your cargo bike. To see it in action, check out this chintzy corporate video.
The purpose of the Dash isn’t to make your life easier, but to make you buy more. Five Elements’ figures claim that most people will just leave the store if they can’t quickly find what they want, so the idea is that the Dash is a kind of mechanized personal shopper. Now, instead of wandering the aisles, trying to find the polenta (is it in the flour section, or the ethnic food section?), you can tap your way through Dash’s touch-screen interface and search there instead. And as you can see from the video, the interface is about as well designed and easy to use as your average ATM. I don’t know about you, but I’m far more likely to walk out on a frustrating shopping cart app than I am to give up on my search for a jar of capers (are they with the canned vegetables, or the pasta sauces?).
The Dash also cuts out the checkout queue, allowing you to scan items as you go, and pay the cart, forcing you into doing the job of a minimum-wage worker yourself. And of course, it serves targeted ads on that same screen.
Some of these problems would be solved if Walmart decides to go ahead with the Dash. It could integrate with a Walmart shopping-list app on your phone, for example, so you could be taken right to the items you have added since your last visit. At this point, though, you start to wonder why you don’t just order those groceries online and be done with it. Which is ironic, as efforts like the Dash cart are, says Bloomberg, meant to help Walmart complete with online retailers like Amazon.
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