A “robotic shopping cart” being developed by researchers here can lead elderly people to items they’re searching for and steer them through the store while keeping clear of other customers.
Their family can watch them from a live feed it transmits.
Researchers at Saitama University’s Graduate School of Science and Engineering hope to make the cart, equipped with a 360-degree camera and a video phone feature, available to the public before the Tokyo Olympics next year.
They plan to promote it to the world as a means to assist elderly shoppers.
The communications gear allows the shopper to talk with others at home so they can avoid the “3Cs” (confined and crowded spaces and close contact with others) amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Yoshinori Kobayashi, 47, who has been studying mobile robot technologies, is leading the project.
“Shopping is a rare opportunity for elderly people to participate in society,” Kobayashi said. “The robotic cart can guide elderly people through the store on behalf of caregivers and carry the items. It should also help them become self-reliant and reduce the burden on caregivers.”
During a demonstration at supermarket chain Aeon Co.’s Kita-Urawa outlet in Saitama in March, the cart performed mostly up to expectations.
But it lost sight of the shopper when he was blocked from view by other customers and store shelves, prompting the researchers to make improvements so it can identify the user and track locations more accurately.
If users tell their smart cart “tomato,” it takes them to the vegetable section. The cart also lets them know where it’s going by announcing, "I’m making a right turn," and so forth.
To avoid collisions with other shoppers and obstacles, the cart is also programmed to stop for a moment when it comes close to them and then resumes guiding users to their destination.
The cart also tells them if they’re in an area near items on sale, with messages on its display panel such as, “Watermelons are a good buy.”
With a store map and merchandise information preinstalled, the cart recognizes its current location and the user with a laser distance sensor mounted on its chassis and other devices.
Elderly people can also use it like a walker to help them get around more easily.
The carts cost about 500,000 yen ($4,670) each to produce. They can also be adapted to use various languages so they can be used by non-Japanese shoppers.