Back in My Day, Grocery Stores Definitely Did Not Drive Themselves Around

HAL's mini-mart, basically

By Alex Lauer

 
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13 June 2017

What would New York City residents be without their 24/7 bodegas? Just like the rest of the country: SOL when it comes to those all too often late-night hankerings.

Enter: The Moby Mart. Simply open an app on your phone, click “Order Store,” then watch as the convenience store rounds the corner and comes to you. 

Thanks to advances in self-driving technology, artificial intelligence and mobile payment, Moby is aiming to be a solar-powered traveling market for food deserts, rural areas and anywhere else where groceries and general goods are not easily available. And it’s built by Wheelys — the Swedish company behind the coffee carts taking on Starbucks — in collaboration with Hefei University and Himalafy, so they’ve got their feet wet in the niche of mobile businesses.

Moby Mart 1 (4 images)

If you watch the sci-fi-tinged video above, you’ll get a sense of how Moby works.

Basically, after tractor-beaming the closest store to you from the app (or walking there yourself), you can open the door with your phone, say hello to the AI hologram HOL, then select products and pay for them through scanning or placing in a smart basket that records your purchases.

That’s it. No waiting in line just to have the cashier turn off his light right before your turn, no idle chitchat while someone rings up your condoms, no interaction whatsoever — well, except with HOL. Let’s hope he’s not related to HAL.

Moby Mart 2 (4 images)

So how close are these to hitting the streets? 

Moby is currently beta-testing in Shanghai, China, but if you’re wondering how they have autonomous vehicles already — they don’t. They’re still figuring out that tech on the other side of the world too, so as of now they are being controlled remotely or driven by a human, as Fast Company notes. Other issues include what products to stock and how to replenish, either by store-to-store or store-to-warehouse.

But don’t expect these to be co-opted by any current retailers. “I want these to be bought by families or groups of people, so that it’s not one person that owns every store in the world,” says Wheelys founder Tomas Mazetti to Fast Company. “Instead of working at a warehouse for Amazon, you can own your own little store.”

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