On a podcast a couple months back, The Spoon editorial team asked “Did The Automat Ever Really Go Away?” If they did, then they have returned with a vengeance, and are now poised to hit the streets, if BIB Technologies’ Automato works as promised.
The Automato is an all-electric vehicle that carries an array of temperature-controlled cubbies that can store food orders. It’s only in the protoype phase right now, by creator Deloss Pickett (who also created the all-electric FRO mobile frozen yogurt cart) gave me a video tour of the device.
Right now, Pickett is focused on the prepared meals market, meaning that restaurants would sell basically kits of food through the Automato that a person would grab and assemble and prepare on their own. This may seem a little counter intuitive at first because one of the conveniences of an automat is the ability to grab your food and go, not grab your food and go make it somewhere else.
But the Automato isn’t meant to be a delivery vehicle running back and forth between a restaurant and different neighborhoods. Nor is it a food truck making orders on-demand. It’s meant to go out to a busy area (or multiple areas in a day) and park, with customers coming to it. With that in mind, the first version of Automato only offers cooled cubbies and not heated ones. A refrigerated meal kit can last a lot longer than a fully cooked meal sitting in a heated box all day.
That’s not to say Automato won’t ever offer heated foods, the vehicle is customizeable to different client needs. It’s just starting with this cold prepared meal kit approach.
Pickett has been lobbying his local government officials in LA to get his vehicles sidewalk clearance. That way, a restaurant that’s buying or leasing an Automato could park it on a busy pedestrian area. People would order through the restaurant app, designate the nearby Automato as the pickup location, and use a QR code to unlock the cubby.
Pickett didn’t provide any specifics around when the Automato would come to market, or where (though LA is a safe bet given that’s where the company is located). The cost for an Automato will be $1,000 down and $3,000 a month ($2,500 a month with a yearlong commitment). This includes the truck, the insurance the app and POS system. There’s also a $1 per order fee as well.
If this idea of a mobile automat sounds familiar, that’s because it’s something Veebie tried a few years back (although in a different fashion) before it eventually became Minnow and pivoted to stationary pickup lockers.
Automats may have never gone away, but they are certainly experiencing a renaissance right now as restaurants explore more contactless food delivery/pickup options during this pandemic. The Brooklyn Dumpling Shop is using automats to create “zero human interaction” in its stores. And as my colleague, Jenn Marston wrote, we could be seeing more automat concepts, especially for ghost kitchens:
By way of a hypothetical example, imagine a virtual deli that has a kitchen space from which it fulfills online orders. It would fulfill delivery orders, but also maintain a cubby system outside to hold any pickup orders. Throw a few tables and chairs near the machine where those who want can eat onsite. Other than the smartphones and the digital ordering, the setup isn’t hugely different from the original Automat concept.
Now we’ll have to see if the Automato can take the automat show on the road.