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A robot can carry your groceries

Shopping at a Franprix supermarket store using an autonomous robot in a test for the delivery of groceries in the 13th district of Paris, France, on April 17, 2019. Image credit: REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The French Supermarket chain FranPrix is testing robot shopping delivery in the XIII Arrondissement in Paris. Their plans are to start running the test first  with three robots in one of their stores that will be helping people with some movement impairment (hence having problems in moving stuff from the shelves to the cashier), secondly by having the robot, assisted by a store attendant, to bring the shopping bags to the customer home (actually the robot is equipped with a sort of container that can fit 30-40 litres of merchandise) and finally to have the robot autonomously delivering the goods.

The problem is surely a technological one, but it is also a problem of getting the green light from the Paris municipality that so far is not pleased to see autonomous vehicles moving in the Paris streets nor on Paris sidewalks.

Today the robots are equipped with a sensor that can track a person and, like a faithful dog, trails him along the supermarket shelves up to the cashier. In the second phase those sensors will trail the person along Paris streets and eventually they will be able to find their way to the customer home.

In the third phase, of course, the customer may use an app to do his shopping from the confort of his couch at home and the robot will be dispatched with the goods, providing an alert once it is in the vicinity so that the customer can go to the sidewalk and pick up its shopping.  A special code will let the customer open the box and retrieve the goods.

The robots are produced by Twinswheel and are powered by an electric motor and a battery ensuring an autonomy up to 25km. They look a bit like the StartWars droids (watch the clip)…

The issue here is achieving a solution that works AND it makes business sense. At this time the cost is high and wouldn’t make business sense. However, in the longer term we know that cost will go down and experimenting now to be ready for autonomous delivery once it will make business sense is a very good idea since there are several aspects that need to ne considered, beyond technology feasibility, including customers’ acceptance and interest in this kind of services.

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