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Virtual Shopping and Coffee in the Sky

They say true innovation comes from creating something consumers didn’t know they needed before showing them why they do. Walmart and IBM filed patents for virtual reality shopping and a coffee-delivering drone, respectively, and while some may wonder whether these concepts would really be necessary to daily life, just the fact these ideas are out there is interesting all on its own.

If Walmart were to develop its two patents, consumers would be able to shop from home, and not just in the sense of visiting a retailer’s website. With virtual reality shopping, shoppers could place orders by using a virtual reality headset and sensory gloves to feel like they’re in the physical brick-and-mortar store. Their orders would then be sent to a fulfillment center where robots would pull orders to submit for shipping, reported Forbes (Aug. 21).

The patents, which were filed in January but weren’t published until this month, followed a separate virtual reality experience Walmart filed a patent for in December 2017. The previous virtual reality setup involved special shopping stations arranged like kiosks in a shopping mall, which would give users access to a large Walmart store.

While Walmart hasn’t gone into detail about what it truly intends to do with these patents, what we can say is virtual reality shopping would definitely have a market in the form of busy parents, shift workers and consumers who don’t have the time or are otherwise unable to shop in a brick-and-mortar grocery store. Many of these consumers may be already using grocery pickup and same-day delivery services, and this could be the next step.

You can look at IBM’s coffee-delivery drone concept in a similar way. We already can grab a cup of coffee by drive-thru, mobile ordering and at-home delivery, so is a drone that can detect when you’re tired and bring you a coffee at that perfect time really that far off? Maybe a drone is the next step, or maybe it’s just coffee in the sky thinking. Either way, it makes you curious.

The patent, which was filed in the U.S., where the process could cost thousands of dollars, describes several variations of a drink delivery drone. In one example, coffee is dispensed from the drone directly into your mug, while another option describes hot drinks delivered in a sealed bag, to prevent any scalding drips. IBM suggests the drone could be equipped with technology to detect blood pressure, pupil dilation and facial expressions to judge whether people are drowsy. Another spin is people in an office could be able to summon a cup of coffee with a hand gesture, reported BBC (Aug. 23).

We have to give Walmart and IBM credit for putting these ideas out there into the retail atmosphere, no matter the ultimate outcome. I’ll keep my eyes open for virtual reality shopping and coffee delivery drones, but in the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised if other innovative concepts came our way and piqued our interest.