Technion Students Create Robotic Shopping Cart

December 18, 2014
Jennifer Frey

Imagine a shopping cart that autonomously tracks and follows its shopper throughout one store and on to the next, like a faithful puppy. Two Technion electrical engineering students have invented just such a cart — making shopping that much easier for the holidays.

Autonomous Shopping Cart

Cart2Go, with creators (L to R) Ohad Rusnak, Kobi Kohai and Omri Elmalech

Ohad Rusnak and Omri Elmalech designed and built from scratch a prototype hands-free, robotic cart, tentatively dubbed “Cart2go” (nicknamed “Follow Me Shopping Cart” in Israel) for their final undergraduate project. It came about somewhat by chance when the two were talking about collaborating on a project. Ohad complained that his back hurt from helping his mother push two carts laden with groceries through the supermarket. “So we had an idea to develop a robotic shopping cart — one that is autonomous, and that can replace me in following after her,” said Ohad.

Ohad and Omri, first cousins who loved tinkering with robotic toys as kids, found an old rusting cart without wheels in a garbage dump, and got to work. The biggest challenge was writing the algorithm that would enable shopper recognition in real time. Clearing that hurdle, they rebuilt the dilapidated cart to become an effective robot. On the top of the cart, they installed a 3D Kinect camera capable of in-depth images that can recognize people in the picture. The camera sends the information to a processor, which runs the identification algorithm and ensures that among all the people in the photo, it tracks only the individual it is tasked to follow.

“It’s a system that must continually learn,” explains Omri. “The processor stores new information and improves its performance continuously.”

Cart2go is an improvement over similar inventions, none of which are autonomous or as simple to use. One runs by remote control and another only tracks users wearing red. “We wanted it as simple as possible. You go to the cart, press a button and from that moment on it follows you and doesn’t confuse you with anyone else,” says Omri, who is working as a hardware engineer at Intel Israel while finishing his bachelor’s degree.

The robotic cart would work best in stores with wide aisles, airports (carrying heavy luggage), and malls — where the cart could follow the shopper from store to store and to the car to unload. The two envision that the final product, which they hope to eventually commercialize, will include programming that allows the cart to return autonomously from the shopper’s final destination to its port.

Mentored throughout by Kobi Kohai, the Chief Engineer of the Technion Control Robotics and Machine Learning Lab, the students received a grade of 100 on the Cart2go project.

To see a video of Cart2go in action, click here.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell NYC Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.

American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $1.95 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of chapters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.