Robotic shopping carts will suggest what to buy

Walmart is the latest retailer to seriously consider giving robots to customers.

Wal-Mart Robotic Shopping Cart

I recently wrote about Walmart's drone ambitions. The brick-and-mortar retail giant is deploying drones in its distribution centers as a clever shortcut to more costly warehouse automation solutions.

Now Walmart is considering another robo-scheme. The company is collaborating with Five Elements Robotics to develop a shopping cart that relieves customers from the strain of pushing while helping them find items on their shopping lists.

It's part of an emerging chapter of the ongoing war between brick-and-mortar retailers and the king of fast-delivery online sellers: Amazon.com. The announcement that Walmart is considering robotic shopping carts came from Five Elements CEO Wendy Roberts last week at the Bloomberg Technology Conference. For its part, Walmart is being more hush-hush about the project, declining to comment on the evaluation process.

But the retailer has made its technological ambitions clear. Walmart has invested heavily in online shopping and app-based checkout services. Customers can now take a virtual walk through many Walmart stores without leaving their homes. The company is also courting ride share companies for a grocery delivery service.

Amazon made an early and extremely prudent move into logistics solutions, and especially robotics, when it acquired Kiva Systems, a leading warehouse automation company. The acquisition is a big part of the reason Amazon can offer Prime customers overnight or same-day delivery. It's estimated Amazon uses 30,000 robots in its operations.

Walmart, meanwhile, is struggling with falling sales. Profits may be off by 12 percent this year.

Five Element Robotics makes the Budgee personal robot. The gadget is essentially a personal shopping cart that can follow its operator around automatically.