Stories tagged History and Nature of Science


Wal-Mart is testing robots created by Vladimir Kulyukin of Utah State University to help shoppers with low- or no vision navigate through the stores and locate products.

The robots can guide people around other shoppers and through the aisles using radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and 16 ultrasonic sonars. They can take instructions via Braille directories of products attached to their handles, and they answer shopper's questions with spoken answers. And they can use their RFID readers to locate products.

Kulyukin says:

"There are RFID sensors placed on the shelves in the store. The robot has the RFID antennae and detects the presence of those tags. That's how it knows it's reached the Colgate section of the toothpaste shelf and it then announces, 'You have reached the Colgate toothpaste section, on your right.'"

But since individual items aren't usually RFID-tagged, visually-impaired shoppers run the risk of picking up the wrong product. Right now, the system can only tell you where the products should be. If an item has been moved or misplaced—either by a store worker who forgot to update or move the RFID tag, or by another shopper who dumped a discarded item—a blind shopper might grab an item they don't want. To get around that, Kulyukin is building a bar code into the system that will announce each product being placed in the cart.

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