Recently, Wal-Mart filed for a biometric patent that would equip its shopping cart handles with heart rate sensors and other physiological detection tools. The patent, titled the “System And Method For A Biometric Feedback Cart Handle” was filed on August 23rd, and details a system in which these sensors send customer physiological data to a central server to analyze customer behavior based on store location and stress level.
The patent describes one of the sensors primary functions to be facilitating the customer’s experience by notifying a store attendant when customers biometric readings signify potential need of assistance. In addition to the heart rate monitor, the new cart handle would include temperature and speed sensors as well. The patent outlines a pulse oximeter that can indicate if a customer is at risk of losing consciousness, better promoting customer safety as well. An assisted push feature was outlined in the patent as well, using a weight-triggered sensor to have the cart move itself forward.
“The server can, over time, build a table of the data associated with a customer’s visit to the store, the table being made of the biometric data and/or the non-biometric cart data,” the patent says. “Specifically, as the data is received the data can be recorded and added to the table. In addition, within the table can be values and data extrapolations based on the other data. For example, the server can create, within the table, a metric for the customer’s stress. This stress estimate can, for example, be calculated by weighting the biometric and non-biometric factors. As one example, if a customer’s temperature is increasing while the customer’s grip on the shopping cart handle simultaneously increases in force, the stress estimate may increase.”
Customer satisfaction can also be monitored through these biometrics, with raises in heart rate and body temperature indicating frustration. After these signs are relayed to a worker, the customer would then have their trouble resolved by a qualified employee. The device would sense deviations from baseline heart rate, temperature, force against the handle, and cart speed to make well-rounded judgements as to when abnormal customer behavior is occurring.
This system accentuates the current trend of big data collection by large companies, with physiological data being the area of interest with Wal-Mart. Biometric sensors are becoming increasingly prevalent in modern technologies and present as some of the most innovative solutions to streamlining processes, however many are critical of the practice. With many skeptical about Amazon’s potential data collection with Alexa’s AI system some may claim that Wal-Mart is using this system for reasons other than customer satisfaction. With Target under scrutiny for using AI with a “pregnancy-prediction model”, large corporations’ efforts to collect patient data is becoming a matter that must consider ethical aspects as well.
— Danielle Duclos (@danielleduclos) October 10, 2018