June 16, 2017 -
Swedish retail startup Wheelys has unveiled a prototype for an autonomous, self-driving mobile store that uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to navigate city streets, according to a report by The Verge.
Earlier this year, the startup launched its first Moby Mart test store in Shanghai carrying basic items like fresh food, sneakers and magazines.
The current prototype is controlled by humans, however, the fully-realized mobile store will use AI and computer vision technologies to self-drive throughout urban and rural areas.
Wheelys partnered with Hefei University to develop a system that collects the consumer’s biometrics, such as their walking gait, as he or she scans the QR code and uses sensors on the shelves to detect that the item has been removed.
Consumers must register in advance for an account. Once they remove an item, the item will be linked to their ID in the mobile app to prevent theft.
Immediately following payment, the system automatically deletes the consumer’s biometric data that was collected at the door.
Once the biometric system is installed in the store this summer, anyone will be able to download the Wheelys app and begin shopping at the store.
Wheelys plans to develop a cloud-based system that will store data about general customer behaviors and individual preferences, then analyze the data to help store owners predict what items will sell at specific locations..
In addition, Moby Mart will eventually be able to drive to warehouses to restock itself, while a drone component will deliver items right to customer’s residence or workplace.
However, the company has yet to provide any concrete details on how it plans to build out or support these ambitious plans.
Founded in 2014, Wheelys was initially hosted at Y Combinator (the accelerator behind Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit) and has been funded by Gmail creator Paul Buchheit, Scribd founder Jared Friedman, and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron.
The startup has since moved its research and development department and its design department from Sweden to China, and is also relocating its Himalafy unit — which focuses on developing the automated store system — to China.
Entrepreneurs can franchise a Wheelys bus and operate at costs low enough to support profits in a shop even in a remote area, or one selling specialized items of interest such as comic books, old records, or second-hand books, he says.
Wheelys has posted a video demonstrating the mobile store in action.