Will retailers go on the road with self-driving mobile stores?
While legislators in some cities have been trying to keep autonomous robots off sidewalks, a new startup wants to enable any big box retailer to get a full wing of its operation rolling around on city streets.
Santa Clara, CA-based startup Robomart purports to be in talks with big box retailers and wholesalers to implement its mobile autonomous grocer platform, according to TechCrunch. The company plans to allow partner retailers to use its fully-autonomous, full-sized delivery vehicles to serve as auxiliary, mobile storefronts.
If the vehicles work as intended, they could allow big retailers to bring a portion of their operations into areas where they have no store presence, perhaps along a schedule with multiple stops per-day. In this fashion, the technology seems like a combination of a food truck (albeit possibly carrying non-food products) and a wheeled delivery drone. Retailer could bring along product selection from different departments on the road on different days. The service could also facilitate deliveries within a particular area.
Robomart plans to offer the platform as a white-label service, according to TechCrunch. Retailers would license the entire service, including the vehicle, as part of a two-year lease.
But there are potential hurdles that could stand in the way of the concept’s success. The framework for the legality of autonomous vehicles is still being developed on the federal level, so it is not yet clear how such vehicles would be classified. Finding legal places to park, as has sometimes been a point of concern for food trucks in big cities, could be another problem. And the service would no doubt face the same concerns about theft as with any store concept operating without human oversight.
Robomart is not the only tech company working on a fully mobile mini-mart. Last year, a Swedish tech startup and a Chinese university partnered to create and beta test Moby Mart, a convenience store on wheels that customers can direct to their location via app. At the time its testing in Shanghai began, however, Moby Mart was still controlled by humans rather than being fully autonomous.
- Robomart is the latest startup to try and unseat the local convenience store – TechCrunch
- Congress in the driver’s seat on self-driving cars – Washington Examiner
- What happens when you put a c-store on wheels? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see self-driving mobile stores catching on in the U.S.? In what situations might these vehicles be most effectively deployed by retailers and brands?