By Adele Peters
In Shanghai, a prototype of a new 24-hour convenience store has no staff, no registers, and the whole thing is on wheels, designed to eventually drive itself to a warehouse to restock, or to a customer to make a delivery.
The startup behind it believes that it’s the model for the grocery store of the future–and because it’s both mobile and far cheaper to build and operate than a typical store, it could also help bring better access to groceries to food deserts and rural areas.
For consumers, it’s designed to be an easier way to shop. To use the store, called Moby, you download an app and use your phone to open the door. A hologram-like AI greets you, and, as you shop, you scan what you want to buy or place it in a smart basket that tracks your purchases. Then you walk out the door; instead of waiting in line, the store automatically charges your card when you leave (Amazon is testing a similar system).
The tiny shop will stock fresh food and other daily supplies, and if you want something else you can order it using the store’s artificial intelligence. The packages will be waiting when you return to shop the next time. When autonomous vehicles are allowed on roads, the store could also show up at your home, and the company is also testing a set of drones to make small deliveries.