Walmart's published patent application US 20160260161, and others
A system for bringing a shopping container to a customer in a shopping space comprising: a plurality of sensors; a plurality of motorized transport units; and a control circuit communicatively coupled to the plurality of sensors and the plurality of motorized transport units, the control circuit being configured to: receive a shopping container request from a user interface device associated with the customer; determine at least one available shopping container among a plurality of shopping containers based on data collected by the plurality of sensors, the at least one available shopping container being empty and not used by another customer; select an available shopping container from the at least one available shopping container based at least on a location information of the user interface device; select a motorized transport unit from among the plurality of motorized transport units to transport the available shopping container; and provide instructions to the motorized transport unit to bring the available shopping container to the customer.
The background section states:
In a modern retail store environment, there is a need to improve the customer experience and/or convenience for the customer. Whether shopping in a large format (big box) store or smaller format (neighborhood) store, customers often require assistance that employees of the store are not always able to provide. For example, particularly during peak hours, there may not be enough employees available to assist customers such that customer questions go unanswered. Additionally, due to high employee turnover rates, available employees may not be fully trained or have access to information to adequately support customers. Other routine tasks also are difficult to keep up with, particularly during peak hours. For example, shopping carts are left abandoned, aisles become messy, inventory is not displayed in the proper locations or is not even placed on the sales floor, shelf prices may not be properly set, and theft is hard to discourage. All of these issues can result in low customer satisfaction or reduced convenience to the customer. With increasing competition from non-traditional shopping mechanisms, such as online shopping provided by e-commerce merchants and alternative store formats, it can be important for "brick and mortar" retailers to focus on improving the overall customer experience and/or convenience.
Separately, the first claim of published application 20160260159 :
An apparatus comprising: a plurality of lockers; a plurality of motorized transport units; a central computer system having a network interface such that the central computer system wirelessly communicates with the plurality of motorized transport units, the central computer system being configured to: determine which of the plurality of lockers has been previously associated with a particular authorized recipient; select a particular one of the plurality of motorized transport units to thereby provide a selected motorized transport unit; cause the selected motorized transport unit to retrieve the locker that has been previously associated with the particular authorized recipient and to make that locker available to the particular authorized recipient such that the authorized recipient can retrieve from that locker at least one item.
The first claim of published application 20160260049:
A method comprising: loading a plurality of motorized terrestrial transport units into a mother vehicle; loading into the mother vehicle a plurality of items to be delivered to various corresponding different recipients; moving the mother vehicle to a first delivery location; dispatching a first of the motorized terrestrial transport units carrying at least a first of the items to leave the mother vehicle and transport the first of the items to effect delivery to a first of the recipients; prior to the first of the motorized terrestrial transport units returning to the mother vehicle, moving the mother vehicle to a second delivery location and dispatching a second of the motorized terrestrial transport units carrying at least a second of the items to leave the mother vehicle and transport the second of the items to effect delivery to a second of the recipients; recovering at least the first of the motorized terrestrial transport units at a first recovery location into the mother vehicle.
The first claim of published application 20160259345:
A shopping facility assistance system comprising: a plurality of motorized transport units located in and configured to move through a retail store space; a plurality of user interface units, each corresponding to a respective motorized transport unit; and a central computer system having a network interface such that the central computer system wirelessly communicates with one or both of the plurality of motorized transport units and the plurality of user interface units, wherein the central computer system is configured to control movement of the plurality of motorized transport units through the retail store space based at least on inputs from the plurality of user interface units such that a given one of the plurality of motorized transport units selectively: leads a user to a destination within the retail store; or follows the user within the retail store; as determined by the central computer system.