I can’t let you buy that, Dave.
Since its release, the depth- and voice-sensitive systems which form the basis of Kinect have been used to build a wide variety of assistive technologies. This, however, is a new one: Whole Foods has decided to use Kinect to create a talkative shopping cart which pursues and assists you as you shop.
According to Microsoft, which is developing the “cart of tomorrow” tech in a partnership with Austin-based developer Chaotic Moon, this project is barely weeks old. No word was given on when, or if, the cart will ever appear in actual Whole Foods stores.
The video to the right shows the nascent mobile HAL unit greeting its master and attempting to follow him across a small space, no doubt using its Kinect sensors to keep track of where he is and whether or not he’s moving. The user then scans some items into the cart, eliciting an announcement for each product from the vehicle. The cart gently reminds the user that he has a preference for gluten-free foods when he attempts to add wheat spaghetti to his menu. As a finishing touch, the cart processes his entire transaction and then kindly shuts down. No shopping assistants are required whatsoever.
There are a few good reasons to support the evolution of this HAL-cart. It could, for instance, create a faster and more streamlined shopping experience for various busy people as well as groups who have physical impairments which make pushing a cart or lifting a heavy basket a difficult or uncomfortable experience. Teenagers (and perhaps a few other, uh, select demographics. Ahem) will find hours of amusement in shouting obscure commands at the cart and getting it to follow them, lemming-style, into areas where a shopping cart has no rightful business being.
On the other hand, do you want a next-level “UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA” machine to be capable of following you around while you shop? How often will it crash into your surroundings and snipe at you for scanning different foods? “You have added a chocolate muffin, Dave. Earlier you specified that you are following a calorie controlled diet. Are you sure you want to keep the muffin, Dave? You can always put it back. The shelf’s right there, Dave. Returning the muffin will burn two calories from your daily quota. Please return the muffin to the shelf, Dave.”
Silly me; it won’t be that talkative. Well, probably not. Hopefully not? Either way, Microsoft is reported to have revealed at the cart’s demo that Kinects are being integrated into 300 other commercial projects, some of which are similar to the cart. Kinect for Windows and its accompanying development kit have opened the field right up; this chatty cart could just be the beginning.