Walmart’s string of unusual patent applications continues: fresh from filing six patent applications to create an automous fleet of robot bees, the US-based retail behemoth is now seeking to develop trolleys with biometric handles that can track customer heart rate, temperature and stress levels.
The system would “sleep” and be reactivated when a trolley starts moving, the patent application shows – with anomalies in biometric information alerting store staff so they can check on the person associated with that data.
The system would alert staff to customers in distress and “help improve their shopping experience” the company said.
Another application might be to highlight potential shoplifting alerts to security staff.
In 2015 Greg Foran, head of the retailer’s US operations, told a media briefing that he saw an opportunity to boost margins by putting a dent in the problem, saying it typically represents 1 percent for any retailer’s sales.
“One percent of $300 billion [Walmart’s revenues in 2015] is quite a lot of money. If you can save 10 basis points of it – boy I’ll take it every day of the week and put it into lower prices for customers,” Foran told Reuters after the briefing.
Walmart – owner of the UK’s Asda chain – operates 11,695 stores under 59 banners in 28 countries. It generated revenue of $485.9 billion in fiscal year 2017 (meaning, if the theft figures are the same, that losses could amount to over $4 billion).
The company has a growing R&D budget and has been busy filing hundreds of patents, including today filing a patent that links mobile scanners with users’ smartphones to provide product information, similar products and their availability in the store.
Other recent Walmart patents filings include a patent that uses satellite imagery to optimise carpark use and a patent that would see hundreds of sensors placed around its stores that link with customers’ phones for “dynamically transmitting alerts” after recognising items that may be of interest to that customer.
Last week, it also filed a patent for a “distributed blockchain storage system” for data backup and authentication.