The idea of a fully automated grocery store with no human employees might sound strange (or very appealing, depending on just how much you hate interacting with people), and now, Shanghai residents can visit one for themselves. The Swedish company Wheelys is testing a mobile grocery store with no staff -- and it can drive itself.
In order to shop at Moby, you first have to download an app to your phone. That's what gets you through the door, which is otherwise kept locked. You then walk through the store -- which is very small, fitting a maximum of four people at once -- and place your purchases into a smart basket. When you're ready, you simply walk out the door. You're automatically charged for the food you purchased. It's a concept that Amazon has been working on, but Wheelys may beat the retail giant to market. What's more, the solar-powered Moby is designed to restock itself automatically, driving to a warehouse, while another identical unit takes its place.
While Wheelys is testing its first Moby store in the bustling city of Shanghai, these autonomous, unmanned stores could also prove very useful in small, rural towns where grocery shops have closed, as well as urban food deserts. "I grew up in the countryside in Northern Sweden," said Tomas Mazetti, one of Wheelys' founders, to 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."
The company is hoping to make these mobile markets affordable for small groups of people. They estimate a community could purchase a Moby store for around $30,000, with an additional fee for logistical support. Eventually, the company wants to expand beyond groceries, as well as test the home delivery services.