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Robomart, the self-driving market, wants to work with retailers

Why deliver groceries when you can deliver the whole store?

The last mile has long been a thorn in retailers’ sides, adding expenses to both the retailer and consumer. But one technology company called Robomart hopes to deliver savings to both parties.

Robomart is self-driving stores on are wheels equipped with shelves to stock groceries as retailers see fit and sensors to identify when supplies are low. Its refrigeration system is ideal for produce and perishable items, said company founder Ali Ahmed.

“Our core focus is on giving that autonomous store to consumers,” said Ahmed, but to do so he’ll be working with stores and retailers.

Grocery stores can license a Robomart for a 24-month lease, which includes a wireless charger, a fleet management system to track the vehicles and a white label app. Retailers will decide what to stock in their Robomart and can customize the vehicle with a store’s branding and logo.  Using Robomart’s technology, retailers will track deliveries and work directly with their customers to determine when the vehicle will show up at homes and what it will bring with it.  The Robomart can make local deliveries at speed of about 25 miles per hour and can travel about 70 miles on a full charge.

The concept seems rather futuristic, but in the San Francisco Bay area, companies already deploy delivery robots and have received permits for self-driving cars. Perhaps a grocery store that comes to its customers isn’t all that far off, at least not in Silicon Valley. Robomart is in the application process of obtaining an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit from the DMV in California and expects to be driving in the San Francisco Bay Area soon.

Ahmed distinguishes Robomart from other delivery services, including delivery robots. “Most of those are good for one delivery at a time,” he said. “We’re delivering a new category.” That is, delivering a whole store.

But Ahmed is no stranger to delivery. The serial startup entrepreneur launched Dispatch, a U.K.-based on-demand app in 2015. During his time with Dispatch, he found that groceries were the most requested item, but he hardly saw customers purchasing produce or other perishable items through the service.

“People don’t trust someone picking these for them,” Ahmed discovered.

That’s where Robomart comes in.

Customers can pick their own produce when the vehicle shows up at their front door. They save time and the delivery fee often associated with delivered groceries. And for grocery stores, the fees to operate Robomart will be less than paying drivers or working with apps like Instacart, said Ahmed. And retailers won’t give up control over their products, branding or data.

Part of the appeal to retailers is leveraging Robomart’s technology platform, said Ahmed. He said he’s seeing interest from retailers around the world and will roll out a control pilot this year.

Although the company made a splash at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Ahmed stresses that Robomart will serve retailers first.

“We are not a consumer-facing brand,” he said. “We are a complete B2B business.”

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