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This Autonomous Bodega Roams The Streets Of Shanghai 24/7

A self-driving convenience store being tested in Shanghai takes same-day delivery to the next level.

It won’t be long before the magical, free two-day delivery of Amazon Prime will feel like an eternity. What will replace it? Probably something that looks a lot like the Moby Mart.

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The half-realized concept–by Wheelys, Hefei University, and Himalafy and spotted by Red Ferret–is an autonomous, 24-hour convenience store that drives the streets of a city. Stocked with perishables like milk and impulse buys like new shoes, you can spot the nearest one on your mobile app, then grab whatever you need off its shelves. To pay, you scan your purchase with the mobile app.

The project is beta testing in Shanghai now, though it’s missing the most aggressive bits of futurism in the first video–the autonomous driving and a fleet of delivery drones designed to launch from the vehicle’s roof. “We need to wait for legislations to catch up on these topics,” says a spokesperson. “Something we have no doubt will happen quite soon.”

Indeed, the Moby Mart barely feels like sci-fi in the age of Amazon.

Ask experts in the retail space, and you’ll likely hear there are really just two stores that will survive in the future. One is experiential, like an Amazon-owned Whole Foods, where you can sniff the produce like you’re the Barefoot Contessa then purchase whatever you want without standing in pesky lines. The other is a faceless Amazon (or maybe Walmart!) distribution center–a concrete box to fuel efficient pickups and deliveries.

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The Moby Mart is a bridge between the two extremes: lazy and experiential shopping in one. And it also solves what’s often billed “the last mile problem” of delivery: when a customer orders a $5 jar of macadamia nuts, delivering it to their door in just a few hours requires relatively costly, yet oft exploited labor because the margins stink for everyone.

[Image: Wheelys]
This wheel-borne drone is basically a food truck 2.0, driven by a robot, stocked with a lot more than kobe kimchi sliders. (Not that we won’t buy kobe kimchi sliders off future food trucks, too! There’s even a Silicon Valley startup that’s currently using AI-connected ovens to bake pizza while it’s in transit to its destination.)

So don’t be surprised when you see something like the Moby Mart on streets some day. And don’t be surprised when you see a big Amazon Prime logo on the side. Or Whole Foods. Or Uber Eats. Or . . . well, you get the idea.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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