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Walmart Files Patent for Customer-friendly Drones

Walmart Files Patent for Customer-friendly Drones

Author: Michael Cheng   

According to a 2017 report published by international consulting firm McKinsey & Company, roughly 800 million jobs could be replaced by robotic systems within the next 15 years. Some jobs, like back-office transaction processing, customer service and mortgage origination, are at risk of getting trapped by the automation bug.

Walmart's approach to an automated workforce involves drones, smart carts and wearables. The company filed several patents to secure its ideas, with one detailing the use of customer-friendly UAVs (Pub No: US 2018/0081375 A1).

Drone Patent Details

According to the patent, customers can summon a drone for help any time inside stores. In application, an individual looking to confirm the price of an item may request for assistance using a control interface, which would most likely be the official Walmart smartphone app or an in-store kiosk. In another scenario, a lost customer may flag a compact UAV for navigational assistance around the store.

After assistance, the unit flies back to a dock or charging hub. All of the units are connected via a wireless network, which also includes an informative database of updated product information. This is where drones pull data in real-time.

"The shopper also could instruct the drone to travel to an item whose location is stored in a database to acquire the most up-to-date price stored if the price does not reflect the most recent price change," said Chuck Martin from MediaPost.

Right now, it is too early to tell exactly how Walmart plans to incorporate drones in the front lines of customer service. A fleet of UAVs buzzing around aisles, stores, warehouses and parking lots may cause some shoppers and workers to feel uneasy.  

Currently, price verification in Walmart is conducted and streamlined via price-scanning kiosks. Although reliable, the machines are hidden between aisles and difficult to find. Because of this, frustrated customers often look for alternative products or discard items at random places around the store.

Automating the Walmart Experience

Walmart, like other commercial businesses, is gearing up for an entirely new shopping experience – perhaps one with less human encounters. The deployment of self-checkout options and scan-and-go purchasing (scan a product and pay using a mobile phone) are clear signs the retail giant is moving in that direction.

"It's possible this is a play towards cashier-less shopping, like the kind Amazon is increasingly rolling out with its Amazon Go locations," explained Gizmodo.

"Some consideration is also given to autonomous tech, which it seems Walmart is thinking about deploying for item identification and coordination of self-driving cars."

In another patent filed by the company, the business proposed the use of a wearable device to track the movements and actions of customers. The unit is equipped with a sensor, touchscreen and microphone, for remote (real-time) assistance.

Lastly, the establishment is exploring new ways to keep its shelves stocked. Using cameras, sensors and transmitters, an automated system closely monitors the amount of products on the shelf. One should carefully note that a human worker is still needed to replenish low-stock levels.

Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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