A self-driving supermarket without any human staff has opened its doors in Shanghai. There are no lines at Moby, and it can drive itself to a warehouse whenever it’s out of stock.
The entire experience of Moby is meant to feel like futuristic shopping, down to the hologram greeter. You need to download an app to even get in the door – it only opens on phone recognition. You place your items in a “smart basket,” and when you leave, you just walk out the door. The self-driving supermarket scans what you’ve bought and charges your account accordingly. With solar panels on the roof, it recharges itself.
The 24-hour self-driving supermarket is the brainchild of the Swedish company Wheelys, which developed the store alongside China’s Hefei University and Himalayafy, an offshoot of Wheelys focused on Moby-specific tech. Although the whole thing might sound dehumanising, Wheelys comes from a very human reaction to financial collapse in rural areas across the globe.
“I grew up in the countryside in Northern Sweden,” Tomas Mazetti, one of the founders of Wheelys, tells Fast Company. “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.”
Shanghai is no rural village, of course – nearly half of its population lives in the Puxi District where Moby is located – and Wheelys stores are mass-produced as opposed to being built locally. The company also makes small mobile coffee carts that go for $1,800 each. A self-driving supermarket like Moby could could someone $30,000 alongside logistics support from the company.
Moby is very much in beta. Only four people can fit inside the tiny store at the time, and while Mazetti wants it to drive itself, currently a driver that takes the Moby to a nearby warehouse. There’s a lot of space for Wheelys to experiment, and the company wants to start selling a finished product for franchising by 2018. “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 Mazetti to FastCompany. “Instead of working at a warehouse for Amazon, you can own your own little store.”
Source: Fast Company
Video and image credit: Wheelys Cafe
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.