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Robotic Delivery, Including Ice Cream, Expanding

The classic ice cream truck is getting a makeover.

Automated “store on wheels” platform Robomart has partnered with Unilever to deploy robotic vehicles for ice cream delivery this summer, reported Supermarket News (May 6).

Consumers will be able to hail The Ice Cream Shop Robomarts to their location using Robomart’s mobile app. When the vehicle arrives, customers swipe across the app to open the vehicle’s door and the Robomart then lets users handpick their selected products and walk away without having to swipe a card.

This is not Robomart’s first venture. In June 2021, they debuted on-demand, autonomous pharmacy and snack mini-marts in West Hollywood, California.

Delivery robots have been making headlines for several years now and The Food Institute took a look at where they’re headed.


Will we be seeing these types of robots on a widescale basis anytime soon? Probably not, according to Sally Applin, Ph.D., an anthropologist whose research explores human agency, algorithms, AI, and automation in the context of social systems.

“At present, autonomous vehicles (AV’s) do not have the capability to interact with non-AV’s very well,” she told The Food Institute. “They can mostly stop, but they can’t navigate complex traffic, negotiate with each other, or with other people, nor can they figure out safe spaces to stop in the same way that humans can.”

Applin noted that this doesn’t even take delivery into account. “You have to get the vehicle safely where it needs to go, then it needs to prep, dispense, collect payment, whatever—all those systems have to be designed well and well-integrated. We are very far away from that. It is much cheaper still to pay humans to do this.”


Robotic delivery is still a relatively new concept, so consumer reaction data is limited. However, in 2020, 44% of consumers in a survey from Euromonitor International said they would be comfortable receiving a delivery directly via drone or robot.

With that, Robomart reported that active users of its pharmacy/snack mini-marts hail a vehicle to their location 2.3 times a week on average. The company has seen 9% user growth and 10% order growth weekly as it has gained market share.

Applin believes consumer reaction to robotic delivery might be positive for some, but not all. “Many of us like to form relationships with the people who are making, serving, and sourcing our food,” she said. “[Robotic delivery] turns cuisine into a vending machine experience.

“Food is about feeding, eating, enjoying, and about sharing culture. Where does that go if we automate delivery?”