Shopping at Wal-Mart is about to get less human. Enter the shopping cart bots.
Customers will be able to use a handheld device to summon an empty cart and have it whisked their way via "motorized transport unit," according to Wal-Mart's patent, granted last week. The customer's location is determined by optical sensors in the device which will receive information from smart LEDs in the store.
The system's "central control circuit" will also track shopping cart idle times to see which ones are not being used and implement image sensors to make sure they're empty.
And the carts will even be able to return themselves.
The patent included the above drawings of what they might look like, but noted that some elements were simplified and exaggerated for clarity.
Wal-Mart "want[s] to be able to serve customers when and how they want to shop," Walmart spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez told Business Insider.
No word on when customers themselves will be replaced by automatons.
Ben Popken is a senior business reporter for NBC News.