'Grocery on wheels' makes its debut

| by Elliot Maras
'Grocery on wheels'  makes its debut

Photo courtesy of Robomart.

Picking your own produce may be a labor of love for many, but that doesn't mean it can't also be fast and convenient

Consumers in California will soon be placing orders for fresh produce via apps and physically picking them from the shelves of self-driving delivery vehicles. The Robomart, a self-driving grocery store, debuted in preliminary form at the CES trade show this week in Las Vegas. According to the company, the technology will soon be available to supermarkets that will lease the vehicles and the technology. 

Ali Ahmed

Robomart will license the electric vehicle, a wireless charger, the apps and an automated fleet management system for a monthly fee to supermarkets on a 24-month lease, Ali Ahmed, founder, told Food Truck Operator.

Robomart uses the NVIDIA autonomous drive platform, which uses artificial intelligence and allows for automatic unlocking the vehicle, surround perception to alert the driver to hazards, gesture recognition for user controls, natural language understanding for voice control and gaze tracking for driver distraction alerts. The top speed is 25 miles per hour.

One of the key features of the 14-by-6-foot Robomart is the ability to deliver fresh produce, one of the biggest challenges for food delivery services. 

"I realized that humans picking and delivering goods is prohibitively expensive," said Ahmed, a veteran technology entrepreneur. "You cannot offer that same price when you have human delivery."

Delivering perishables presents challenges

While perishables account for about 60 percent of all groceries sold, less than 5 percent of perishables are sold online, according to Robomart's website, citing Kantar Worldpanel research. Consumers are hesitant to allow someone else to pick their produce for them.

Ahmed surveyed women between the age of 26 and 44 and found that more than 85 percent did not purchase fruits and vegetables online because they thought delivery was too expensive. They also wanted to choose their own products.

"People want to physically touch goods before buying," Ahmed said regarding produce. "That's what we're solving with Robomart."

The survey further found that 65 percent would use a Robomart more than once a week.

How it works

Consumers will download the Robomart app, then register by entering their personal information, including their payment card number. They can then order a Robomart and shop the Robomart at their own doorstep. Ali compared the ordering part of the process to Uber, whereby consumers register to use the service and establish their payment method.

The app allows the customer to open and close the door.

When the Robomart arrives, customers open the door using their app and then hand select their products.

The proprietary "grab ang go" software will automatically charge the customer's account. The four shelves each have four to six cubicles that hold products. The shelves are equipped with sensors that detect when a product has been removed and activate payment and send a receipt.

The interior of the vehicle has 70 cubic feet, Ahmed said.

The customer will be able to close the door using the app or can close it manually.

 "When the vehicle is locked and we've established that they've finished shopping, we would then calculate everything they've taken, send a receipt and charge their card," he said. There will be no cash payment.

The touch technology is similar to how the Amazon Go stores allow consumers to pull products from shelves and be charged without having to scan package labels.

The vehicle's display shelves are static, but Ahmed plans to develop rotating carousel shelves.

 "It will be temperature controlled on both the cooling and heating side," Ahmed said. He is building a cold plate system to provide the refrigeration. 

Vehicle still under development

The software has been completed, and the first commercial version of the vehicle is under construction. Robomart is building the vehicle itself, using existing electric drivetrains. Ahmed could not disclose which manufacturer's drivetrain he is using. He expects to have vehicles completed by 2019. He has a fleet management system to handle orders, routing and restocking. Retailers will be able to manually communicate with customers and staff via telemetry and access sales and analytical data.

The company is in the process of getting its autonomous vehicle testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

In the meantime, Ahmed said he is in discussion with a number of retailers, but he did not wish to name them at the present time. He expected pilots would begin sometime this year.

The Robomart team includes six full-time employees, including Ahmed, who is no stranger to launching innovative companies.

"There are a lot of different applications," Ahmed said for the technology. "Eventually we’ll get beyond grocery; you can use it for all sorts of retail categories. But at the moment, we’re speaking to (grocery) retailers about licensing it."

Photos courtesy of Robomart.

Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Equipment & Supplies, Food & Beverage, Mobile Payments, Online / Mobile / Social, Online Ordering, Software, Systems / Technology, Vehicles

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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