A new self-driving grocery store has opened in Shanghai, aimed at totally changing the way that people shop.
The Moby Mart, created by Swedish startup Wheelys (in cooperation with retail company Himalafy and Hefei University), will operate 24/7 with no human staff. It runs on solar power with a mission of making grocery shopping environmentally-friendly, easy to access, and cheaper to operate.
Customers must download an app in order to shop at Moby, and once they have collected their groceries, the store scans and charges them accordingly. The app also lets you call a nearby Moby to your area. Advanced AI technology allows each travelling store to know when to restock on groceries.
This isn’t Wheelys’s first innovative creation. In 2015, they launched a portable coffee stand on a bike, which ordinary people could buy and operate for $2,999. The project propelled Wheelys to success, prompting them to come up with more local commerce inventions.
“We’ve been thinking about how to make shopping more innovative, effective and cheaper for people to start a café or retail in general,” Wheelys cofounder and CEO Maria De La Croix told Techcrunch.
Moby’s technology eliminates some of the expenses and troubles that come with normal grocery stores. You’ll never have to wait in line at a Moby, for example, and there’s no need to hire cashiers or managers. If customers have a question, an AI “hologram greeter” is there to help.
While removing the need for human workers might seem bad for the unemployment rate, Moby’s creators insist that this kind of new technology helps everyone.
“The biggest costs to have a store are the place itself to rent in a central city — it’s ultra-expensive — and then staff is really expensive, and we’re removing both of these at the same time,” said Tomas Mazetti, one of the founders of Wheelys.
Mazetti told Fast Company that he hopes that the Moby will prove helpful to rural areas facing hard times and with poor access to groceries.
“I grew up in the countryside in Northern Sweden,” he said. “The last store closed there in the 1980s sometime, and after that, everyone just commuted into the city, but that takes an hour. A little piece of the village died. Now, suddenly, in a place like that, the village can team up and buy one of these stores. If the village is really small, [the store] can move around to different villages.”
Although Shanghai is the complete opposite of rural, it’s extremely expensive to rent out a building and start a grocery store here. The Moby’s affordable and portable nature can make it easy for ordinary citizens to start a successful business.
Although the Moby is up and running in Shanghai, it still has a long way to go before it’s fully-developed and ready to sell. Since self-driving vehicles are banned in China, Moby can only be operated by a human driver or remote controller.
But, with or without a driver, Moby makes grocery shopping a whole new experience.
By Caroline Roy
[Images via Wheelys]
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