He’s making a list

You might have seen on “Gadget Man” on Channel 4 a few weeks ago the prototype for a smart shopping trolley. It could follow or lead you round the store ticking items off your shopping list by scanning RFID tags as you placed items in the cart. It’s supposed to make shopping easier but I’m not so sure, particularly at busy times like Christmas.

Checking it twice

Some people like to walk leisurely around taking it all in carefully checking which produce to buy, but if you’re a speed demon on a mission the trolley’s slow pace is going to frustrate you. Also, I can’t see supermarkets investing in them. Grocery is a cut throat business where every penny counts. It’s bad enough just trying to find the cart that doesn’t have the wonky wheel, let along look for one whose screen isn’t scratched or whose camera doesn’t have a roving eye and won’t follow you.

My ideal cart would be a combination of the RFID part of the Smart Cart and Cargo Collective’s Hop suitcase which uses the Bluetooth signal from your mobile phone to follow you around. Like many other shoppers I have my shopping list on my mobile, so wandering around holding my mobile in the supermarket is normal stance. This, combined with an app that could take your shopping list and guide you (and thereby your cart) through the store would be less cumbersome and probably cheaper to deploy. Finding the Advocaat for Aunt Matilda’s snowball would never be easier.

You’re gonna find out whose naughty or nice

And if the supermarket was smart they’d make sure that the app could take people’s rough list or even a list created for a competitive store and use it in theirs. NLI has the power to interpret users’ meanings and to ask for further information when there is ambiguity such as the word “crackers”. The app wouldn’t respond “yes you are” (well OK, depending on the personality it’s been given it just might), the app would understand you are shopping in a supermarket and ask if you meant Water Biscuits or Christmas crackers.

No list? No problem. If you can’t find what you’re looking for just speak to the app. As you drop things into your trolley the app can remind you of special offers for that or similar products and if the latest Nigella perfect Christmas recipe has made the store sell out of one ingredient, it could look up and suggest alternatives that are available. Although speech would probably be the most commonly used input method, text would take care of those items you don’t necessarily want to shout out loud.

All that’s missing now is the robotics to pick the items off the shelf for you, but the chances of that happening in the next few years are as good as Santa Claus coming to town.

Merry Christmas!

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