Robomart today announced a partnership with grocery store chain Stop & Shop to deploy driverless store vehicles in the Boston area this spring, the startup’s first planned deployment with a major retail customer.
The vehicles will be stocked with Stop & Shop inventory. Selections available on the vehicle will include pre-packaged meal kits, confectionary snacks and candy, and basic produce like fruits and vegetables, as well as other items often found in convenience stores.
“Obviously what we see from Stop & Shop is they don’t want to limit to just one category,” Robomart CEO Ali Ahmed said. “Originally our idea was that we may have different Robomarts for each category, but it seems like they’re going to initially deploy Robomarts with a more fuller selection.”
Ahmed declined to state the number of driverless vehicles that will take part in the partnership.
To be clear: Robomart wants its vehicles to someday be operated by an autonomous AI system, but vehicles planned for roads in the Boston area this spring will be teleoperated by a human from a remote location.
Once the driverless stores are available, shoppers will use their smartphone to hail a Robomart vehicle, and payments will automatically be deducted based on a system of sensors, cameras, and computer vision.
Exactly where the vehicles will be deployed has not yet been determined. Plans to deploy Robomart vehicles on Silicon Valley streets announced last summer have not yet come to fruition.
It may not seem much like Amazon Go on first glance, but the two have some things in common: Computer vision takes away the need for a cashier to be involved, and the inventory is strikingly similar.
Ahmed said he does not consider stores like Amazon Go in the same category.
“I don’t see unmanned stores as direct competition because of the simple fact that we are mobile. We bring the store to consumers, so they can pick and choose and shop right at home, and that’s never been possible, so … I’d say we’re creating a new category almost,” Ahmed said.
Stop & Shop has 61,000 associates and 400 stores in the northeastern United States in places like Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.