Grocery store chain Stop & Shop announced today that it will begin testing driverless grocery vehicles in Boston starting this spring, combining the hype of autonomous delivery cars, cashier-less stores, and meal kits into one experimental pilot. The launch is part of a partnership with San Francisco-based startup Robomart, whose vehicles will cart around Stop & Shop items like produce, convenience items, and meal kits to customers’ doorsteps.
The electric vehicles will be temperature-controlled to keep produce fresh, and controlled remotely from a Robomart facility. Customers can hail the mini grocery stores via an app, on an interface which feels a lot like calling an Uber. Once the vehicle arrives, customers can unlock the doors, and the items they grab are tracked with RFID and computer vision technology. When they’re done shopping, they can send the vehicle on its way, and a receipt is emailed soon after. It’s like a much tinier Amazon Go store coming directly to your house.
Stop & Shop is experimenting big with robots this year, as the chain recently deployed a fleet of googly eyed robots to patrol its aisles in 500 Giant, Martin’s, and Stop & Shop stores. The robots, created in partnership by Retail Business Services and Badger Technologies, are nicknamed “Marty” and roam around stores looking for spills and messes to clean up. It’s equipped with sensors so it doesn’t bump into any shelves, and cameras to check when items are running low on stock.
So yes, retail automation is here and maybe eliminating jobs, but who among us can resist a good pair of giant googly eyes? So fun! Maybe these self-driving mini grocery stores could use a pair, too.