Retail startup Wheelys' new Moby-Mart concept, a self-driving, cashierless mobile store on wheels, has been drawing a great deal of buzz since its formal unveiling last month, according to architecture and design magazine Dezeen.
The 24-hour mobile store employs an AI-based hologram store assistant and relies on mobile payments for checkout and inventory tracking software to keep stock levels up. The concept, a result of a collaboration between Switzerland-based company Wheelys and Hefei University in China, is currently operating a beta store in Shanghai, China.
Wheelys, a company that has launched other mobile retail platforms such as bicycle-powered coffee stands, is reportedly is looking to get more units on the road by sometime next year. The stores may cost around $100,000 to create and roll out.
It would be very hard, if not impossible, to come up with a new store idea living at the intersection of more retail trends than this one: Driverless, cashierless checkout, mobile payments, AI, inventory management software, solar-powered, cloud-connected and even delivery drone assisted.
Can Wheelys make it happen? Well, it already has made it happen once. The Swiss firm acquired Sweden's Näraffär, a company that had been pioneering staffless stores before Amazon latched onto the idea.
If there is a clear competitor, and a big one, it is Amazon Go, the cashierless store concept that Amazon may now be prepared to extend a little farther with its acquisition of Whole Foods Market. There are a number of other retailers, Walmart included, that are investing in one or more of the technology concepts that Wheelys has plugged into the Moby-Mart, but we haven't seen anyone in retail put all of these technologies into a single, mobile, always-open package the way that Wheelys has.
Still, this remains an early-stage development from a relatively small company, and there is still a lot to learn about how it might evolve. Will Moby-Mart operate as an on-demand retail store, and what will constitute demand? One potential customer who want to buy a bag of chips? Or will it be more like a food truck, showing up at different busy places for a couple hours at a time? We're looking forward to seeing if the company can pull off the concept and where it goes from here.