Robomart announced today that its self-driving mobile commerce vehicles will be used by Stop & Shop in the greater Boston area starting this Spring.
Robomarts are literally little mini-marts on wheels that shoppers can summon via the Robomart mobile app. Once the Robomart arrives, customers choose from the selection carried in the vehicle and are charged for what they take. According to today’s press announcement, the Robomart vehicles will carry a selection of Stop & Shop produce, as well as meal kits and other convenience items directly to consumer’s doors.
I spoke with Emad Rahim, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer for Robomart, who said that while details like the exact neighborhoods where Robomart will be available are still being worked out, they will start off with “a few vehicles,” which may expand to even more depending on how the program works out.
Rahim also said that even though these Robomarts have self-driving capabilities, they will be tele-operated by drivers located in Boston. The company is in ongoing discussions with the city of Boston to make sure it complies with local laws. “Robomart is actively working with the City of Boston and Massachusetts Department of Transportation to ensure Robomart follows all guidelines required,” Rahim said in an emailed statement.
The Robomarts in this pilot will also feature Stop & Shop branding on the side, acting, essentially as big, roaming billboards for the grocer.
I wrote last week about that mobile commerce could be a sleeping giant in the grocery world. With point-to-point delivery (whether by robot, self-driving car or drone), there is always down time for the vehicle, which must travel back to a location empty, before picking up its next order. Since mobile commerce vehicles essentially carry a store with more inventory, they can stay active without needing to reload after every stop.
There are a couple more things of note with this announcement. First, the press release calls out meal kits directly. We’ve been following the evolution of meal kits from mail order to retail shelves. Including them in a mobile commerce play makes a lot of sense. A car pulls up to your door and you can grab all your ingredients for dinner that night in one box.
Second, it looks like Stop & Shop is stepping up its automation efforts in a big way this year. Earlier this week, Ahold Delhaize, Stop & Shop’s parent company, announced it would be rolling out 500 aisle-roaming robots to GIANT/MARTIN and Stop & Shop stores. Some Stop & Shop stores will also be getting mini-robot fulfillment centers thanks to a partnership with Takeoff.
Robots are going to be big this year. If you want to see the future of food robots firsthand, be sure to attend Articulate, our food robot and automation conference we’re holding on April 16 in San Francisco.