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04/07/2018 – News / Science & Technology / Retail / Transportation /  Grocery Delivery / Robomart

Robomart’s driverless grocery store is ready to roll out pilots in California

Driverless technology is taking off in all areas of transportation – and online grocery delivery presents a segment ripe for the picking, believes US-based Robomart. First unveiled earlier this year at the world-famous CES expo, the firm’s self-driving mobile grocery store will launch as a pilot programme in the Californian cities of Santa Clara and Alameda in Q3 2018, with tests across the US expected thereafter.


The new innovation has been touted as “the world's most accessible grocery store”, combining availability, ease of use, affordability, and speed. “Simply open the app, order the closest robomart, and shop checkout-free when it arrives. Shopping has never been easier,” states the San Francisco-based company.


How does it work? 


Consumers simply tap a button to request the closest robomart. Once it arrives, they head outside, unlock the doors, and pick the products they want. When they are done, they simply close the doors and send it on its way. 


Robomart tracks what customers have taken using patent-pending ‘grab and go’ checkout-free technology, and will charge them and send a receipt accordingly.


Driving the market


Currently, the mini mobile market can stock 50 to 100 different items. The autonomous vehicle has a range of 80 miles and can only go 25 miles per hour. The environmentally friendly electric vehicles utilise cutting-edge technology to access wireless EV charging.


In accordance with California DMV regulations, robomarts will be fully driverless although will initially be controlled via teleoperations, according to the company, which has said it is currently “building the software to power full autonomy, including sensor fusion, localisation, control, path planning and obstacle avoidance”.

Smart store on wheels


In addition to the driverless delivery option that other players are already developing, Robomart’s solution has the added value of being the actual market itself.


Beyond that, there are certainly interesting benefits to such technology – for retailers, this includes reducing labour costs, with Robomart claiming its on-demand retail solution works out over five times cheaper on a per order basis.  The ability to expand store footprint with no initial capital expenditure will also likely be a major draw for grocers. 


Retailers would license the platform on a two-year lease – inclusive of the vehicle, refrigeration system and customer data. Robomart says it has already been approached by over 50 retailers from across the world interested in working with the firm, although it will be focusing on deployment in the US first and foremost.


Convenience and control


On the consumer side, the new ‘driverless store’ solution offers the promise of providing both convenience and control to the shopper. This point is particularly salient, given a niggling issue that has long vexed grocers: that consumers are keen to buy more fresh fruit and veg, but remain unkeen on letting a third party actually pick out their produce.


Nonetheless, it is likely to be a challenging learning curve for the consumer – in terms of acclimatising to this very different service. Yet as this and similar concepts arrive on the streets in greater number, this ‘grab and go’ experience is likely to become far more intuitive.


Ripe for the picking


At present, only a tiny fraction of the US$1 trillion grocery market has moved online, yet that is set to change – and fast. According to consulting firm Brick Meets Click, e-commerce sales are expected to experience 13 per cent CAGR up to the end of 2022, compared to 1.3 per cent growth for store sales – and delivery is a big driver of that growth.


The objective of driverless delivery and other last-mile technology is simple: to reduce costs, and to meet convenience-seeking consumers wherever they are. Such considerations mean we should expect to see more driverless grocery stores manoeuvring to claim market share from bricks and mortar stores in the years ahead. 

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