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two-way drones

Terminals that can ask questions
  (+5, -1)
(+5, -1)
  [vote for,

Let's say Fry's (a big electronics chain) makes their inventory accessible over the net. The stuff on the shelves and the inventory differ; how do you figure out what is actually there without relying on sales assistance? Users logged in via the web get little periscope-headed drones to wheel around the store. Once a drone gets in the general area of the thing the buyer wants, it can be made to "blink", attracting the intereste of one of the customers in the area. The drone has a mike/speaker or terminal that can be used to talk back to the person wishing to purchase something. The rest is social interaction between two customers.

(That's probably not world's best use of drones, but I would like to pry computer-mediated interaction from the stasis it right now demands from its participants; terminals that can come up to you and blink at you sound like a step in the right direction.)


I agree with the basic thrust of comments that having real people and/or an accurate online inventory would be preferable to this (other than for hack value), but Fry's specifically is a store whose inventory is hopelessly inaccurate (frequently you'll open a box to find the thing inside be a slightly different model from the one on the box),and many of whose employees are spectacularly clueless compared to the geeky customers. (They are much snappier dressers, though.)

The idea came out of thinking about what single, localized gizmo one could add to the stores to allow remote access without forcing them to clean up the basic problems.

jutta, Jan 10 1999

Surface Cruiser PRoPs http://www.prop.org/cart/
Eric Paulos has already built the thing you want. It can be controlled from a Java applet in your web browser. Now, get Fry's to buy into the idea! [Eeyore, Jan 10 1999]


       Amazon.com and several other large online stores actually link their inventory database to their websites, so customers actuall get realtime data on what's available (theoretically, anyway).   

       Instead of drones, though, they actually have stock people. Nice, because it means jobs.   

       Just FYI....
BigThor, Aug 04 2000

       I recently saw a news story about some big store had these guys in the store on roller blades with a laptop and web cam strapped to thier chest. You could somehow get hooked up to one of these guys over the web and ask them to show you something...they would then skate on over to womens undergarments or whatever and hold things up to the camera for you.   

       I am not sure how a shakey, low-rez image of a new suit is better then the professional picture taken for the online catalog.
blahginger, Aug 10 2000

       Why use a perfectly good telepresent robot for something that can be accomplished with a trusty illegal immigrant and a cell phone? Another reason the idea is bad is that robots don't have pockets, so no more five finger discounts. In any case, this is completely baked since you can buy all sorts of telepresent robots, they are just marketed toward office settings. But I agree with the sentiment of staying as far away from Fry's as possible.
sh4linux, Aug 22 2001

       Wierd. I think, if it worked, it would work. Like, who wants to be interrupted by a robot while they're shopping? You know you're helping someone, but it's a robot standing there. Robots are easy to despise, because they are super-impersonal. But sometimes the customers do know more than the workers, I know that. So it could work. But what about this: People shop online when the actual store is still closed. They don't have to go when it's open, part of the internet shopping attraction. But I give it a + anyway. I like it.
TahuNuva, Nov 03 2007

       No thanks I'm amish [Additional] what about the less technically inclined of us... a mere joystick for control or a mouse and keyboard? And another thing... you can only have so many drones :) However I have heard of a company that made a virtual store...
But it is a WAY cool idea...
xxobot, Nov 04 2007

       A much more effective solution would just be to improve inventory tracking with RFID tags to ensure an exact record at every moment of the shelf contents, even of things out of place.
ironfroggy, Nov 04 2007

       And I immediately thought it's about computer terminals, that have their own will.. :) We don't seem to have them yet.
Mindey, Dec 27 2018

       Skynet is working on it, though.
8th of 7, Dec 27 2018

       // Wierd. I think, if it worked, it would work. //   


       These days, lots of stores' websites (e.g. Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Memory Express) can tell you the inventory levels at each store location, as well as in which aisle and how far along you'll find it. (Not Walmart, though, because it seems their online store has nothing in common with their physical store but the name.)   

       But this would still be useful if you want to talk to other customers. Lots of online stores have review and Q&A sections, but those aren't real-time and they're a bit impersonal. Having telepresence robots in physical stores could even help bring a bit of face-to-face interaction (even though it's via video chat) back into society. So [+]   

       // a Java applet in your web browser //   

       Aaaa! Get it away from me!
notexactly, Dec 30 2018

       Good idea, as long as the drones look and sound like Daleks. Although it might be hard to discern them from the staff at Fry’s.
Whistlebritches, Dec 31 2018

       // Not Walmart, though, because it seems their online store has nothing in common with their physical store but the name. // I'm not sure how true that is. Almost 2 years ago I was shopping for a luggage scale and found it online at Walmart. It told me what isle it was on in the physical store and how many were in stock. Of course it took me and a Walmart employee 15 minutes to actually find the item.
scad mientist, Dec 31 2018

       // if you want to talk to other customers. //   

       We read the words, but the meaning eludes us.   

       // the drones look and sound like Daleks. //   


       // hard to discern them from the staff at Fry’s. //   

       Daleks are much more suitable in a customer-facing role.   

       // it took me and a Walmart employee 15 minutes to actually find the item. //   

       ... but less than half that time without their "help".
8th of 7, Dec 31 2018

       What I never understand about DIY shop assistants is what the point of them actually is.   

       Typically, you want to purchase, say, a rising-butt left- handed door hinge. So, you look at the overhead signs to find the aisle marked "Hardware", and walk over to it. You then look down the aisle at the little sticky-out signs until you see the one that says "Hinges". You then stand in front of the display of hinges, carefully looking at each of the packages hanging from those things that the packages hang from. You see no rising-butt left-handed hinges. So, you look again, this time more methodically, and again fail to find them.   

       So then you go and ask the assistant. The assistant clearly has less idea than you do of what a rising-butt left-handed hinge looks like. But, they identify the correct aisle, find the sign that says "Hinges", and stand in front of the display, looking methodically through all the hinges. This usually takes about 5-8 minutes. At the end of that time, they say "well, if we had it, it would be here" and tell you that they can order them in.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 31 2018

       " ... and lo ! a great Beast rose up silently out of the darkness, having seven heads and ten horns; and the heads were named Amazon, and Screwfix, and eBay, and Argos, and Wilko, and Tesco, and Halfords. And the head called Halfords sounded the ten horns in turn, and spake thus, saying, choose the one you like best, they are all road-legal, and we can deliver it to you tomorrow, at home or work, or you can click-and-collect from your local store. And then spake the head called Amazon, saying, a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny, and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine, plus you can get free delivery if you spend more than thirty quid, or are you interested in signing up for Amazon Prime ? And thus spake the head called eBay, saying, hinges ? Any amount. Rising butt hinges, brass, steel, modern, antique, left and right handed, miniature, giant, metal, plastic and rubber, and here are some other suggestions of things you might like, perhaps a black lace underwired chimney pot, or a set of cheese-flavoured 110/220V brass manatees with integral toe sharpener ? And the store assistants fell on their knees, and cried out, and wailed, and gnashed their teeth, and great was their lamentation, saying, Oh bugger, this will do for us good and proper, are Maccie D's still hiring ? And they went in search of sackcloth and ashes in their stores, but found them not, for the place on the shelf was empty of stock, there being only the barcoded price label and part of a sink plumbing fixture that didn't belong there at all, and sackcloth being due for delivery next Tuesday if they ordered before 1700 today. And the Beast laughed, and emptied the pockets of the stores, and there was Much Rejoicing ..." (from The Book Of Revelations of St. John the Online, Ch VIII, verses 18-30).
8th of 7, Dec 31 2018


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