Grocery shopping might be less painful with this smart cart

Cambridge Consultants, a product development group based in the U.K., is showing off a connected shopping cart that can tell a retailer where you are in a store within three feet. The smart carts are equipped with Bluetooth radios and sensors to track the cart’s location so store owners can offer promotions and eliminate checkout lines. It also means fewer carts will leave the parking lot.

The smart cart design involves off-the shelf sensors strapped to the wheel of an existing shopping cart that are actually powered by the movement of the wheel. So there’s no need to worry about changing the battery inside. The technology is pretty cheap — about £5 ($7.60) — per cart, and should get cheaper with a bit more tinkering and larger orders.

Thanks to the Bluetooth sensors on the cart, beacons around the store, and the ability to track the movement of the wheels and correlate that to the distance the cart has traveled, a retailer can get an incredibly accurate sense of where the shopping cart is inside the store. This is as accurate as many indoor location technology providers and doesn’t require fancy infrastructure, such as RFID readers or a system the relies a customer to have a dedicated app for the store.

Data from the cart is sent to a server on the premise or can be sent up to the cloud for later analysis. But the real value seems to be in taking immediate action to generate sales by notifying customers of promotions when he or she is in front of a display (this would require an app) and then allocating enough staff to reduce wait time when that same customer is ready to check out. There’s also the possibility of offering cool services like generating maps around the store based on a shopping list (another service that would require an app). This could be cool if it tied in with Instacart to help shoppers fill orders faster or even helped fill similar orders at the same time.

Privacy advocates might appreciate that the cart is the item being tracked as opposed to the users’ mobile phone, although those shopping might be frustrated knowing all the data-driven tricks that retailers are using to try to get them to spend more money. The cart is still in the concept phase but Cambridge Consultants is talking to retailers to try to find pilot customers.