The following image and quote are from an article that appeared on TechCrunch. To see the original article, click here.

3D printed wheelchair

A London design firm has worked for two years to create an alternative: a 3D-printed wheelchair made to fit exactly the shape and needs of its rider. The user’s body is actually scanned and their needs are synthesized into a one-piece seat made to their specifications.

 

For instance, someone with a spinal injury midway up the back might require more support and a taller seat-back, while someone who has lost a leg might want things to be adjusted to take her off-center balance into account. Right now, this new design is still in prototype form.

For anyone trying to think of a start-up idea, consider taking something that we take for granted, is “dumb” and has not essentially changed its format in decades. Then try thinking of how this item could be redesigned, taking a whole cast of issues into consideration.

The first thing I thought of was a shopping cart. I have heard people complain about shopping carts for ever. They complain that they are difficult to manage, maneuver, are slow to empty at the checkout counter, and provide no assistance when small children are bored and, G-d forbid, fall under a wheel of the cart.

Imagine coming up with a whole new design that will include some of the following features (most of these ideas are not new. It’s about application to a new target):

  • A way to seat, on the cart, up to 2 small children and keep them occupied (this is key). Distracted children allow the shopper to focus on the shopping process, and will not as readily cause the shopper to leave early because the kids are “out of hand”. This is good for sales and thus key in the business model. How the children are distracted could be analog or (more likely) digital, via tablet-based games or even a movie.
  • Being able to flag a cart as yours has significant advantages. Firstly, you could have a motorized version of the cart so that it follows your phone automatically. This would free up the shopper’s hands for dealing with children or any other activity (like calling someone). Also, you could design it so that if the cart suddenly becomes distanced from you, your phone will sound an alarm. Especially when kids are sitting in the cart, you don’t want anyone moving it unless it is you.
  • How about some version of MobileEye to avoid cart crashes. I have seen people actually hurt by a cart being pushed too aggressively or quickly. A child can easily be hurt in this way. Having the wheels break when something comes into the “clear zone” in front of the cart would increase safety. All it takes is one (ridiculous) law suit to make such technology worthwhile
  • Smart shopping carts could auto-drive you to the items you need for a selected menu. So, if you want to peruse the healthy food sections of the mart, then the cart could direct you to the appropriate sections and away from the naughty foods. Contrarily, if you decide on the spot to make a dessert that is a diabetic’s nightmare, once again, the cart could point you and take you to the items you need. Of course, once you have flagged particular menus, these will be waiting for you in your email or WhatsApp, and will be easily viewable on your kitchen tablet (yes, I am assuming that for a few hundred shekels, you will buy a cheap Android tablet and mount it as your dedicated kitchen tablet).
  • Automatic recognition of the items you place in the cart and then automated charging of your credit card already is well established today. But these would be enhanced for this new design. First of all, once the barcode on the food item is scanned by the cart, you should have access to any and all information about the item. If you are allergic to an ingredient in the item, that should automatically pop up as a warning. Imagine having a device like SCIO built into the cart, and then you could use it to see if the produce you are buying is fresh. Basically, between the barcode lookup of the item and technology like SCIO, your cart would be a food assessment center. For example, this cart could help gluten sensitive people safely pick out items for creating full and delicious meals.
  • Once you have finished your shopping, you could park your cart at the checkout line. The charge for all the items would automatically be calculated and taken off your registered payment system (credit card, PayPal). You would then specify when you want the items delivered to your home, or the cart could follow you outside to your car and make unloading your items much easier (how? Good question).
  • The cart would automatically return itself to its parking station. This would eliminate the awkward situation of leaving the cart in the middle of the parking area where it could be a hazard to others.
  • A smart cart could have part of its outside surface act as an advertising window. Either for internal advertising or for rented advertising, this could be a source of added income. Imagine that the store has a new item it is trying to sell – seeing that item on the outside of every shopping cart would get the message through. Perhaps Nike would sign a deal with Walmart to advertise for “athlete equipment go with athlete meals” and the smart cart would make suggestions to buy the Nike sneakers as well as the right foods to become an athlete.

Now the question is whether there is a business model that would make this cost effective. There is definitely a huge demand for shopping carts (they are used everywhere). But replacing dumb simple carts with smart carts might seem like overkill to many store owners, especially if the price of the smart cart is significantly more than the simple dumb carts. I personally am not too worried about people being overwhelmed by the technology as most of it should be very intuitive.

The question is the cost of all of these features. 3-D printing can reduce the cost of certain items, but overall, these carts will almost definitely be more expensive. It is left to the marketing people on the team to explain to the potential purchaser why smart carts are an investment, rather than just a monetary outlay.

This idea is just a flight of fancy, but I wanted to demonstrate how redesigning and rejuvenating a dumb/old item can lay the groundwork for an effective startup.

There is no end to such ideas. Imagine smart drinking glasses that can detect “date rape” drugs in them. I think that would be a worthwhile investment for all.

Imagination is a wonderful thing because it truly is limitless. For the moment, it also still differentiates us from computers. In time, our imaginations will clear away any obstacles to anything we want to achieve. A smart shopping cart is as good a place to start as any on this imagination lead journey.

Thanks for listening,