Roman Drokov CEO of autonomous mobile robot Mio visited GDR’s London HQ last week to talk to the team about the future of consumer-facing robots and why CPG brands need to pay attention
“I see a future where you think that you want something and it instantly appears next to you.” This is the vision of Roman Drokov, CEO of mobile kiosk solution Mio.
Mio is a vending bot on wheels that autonomously moves throughout busy spaces to conveniently sell CPG products to busy consumers. It includes a sensor so that it stops when people approach it. Customers can select their items on touchscreens or using their voice and pay with cash or card.
In future the company intends to create a mobile app that will allow hungry or thirsty customers to summon the robot to their location. Consumers will also be able to order larger packs of products to their homes. In this way, Mio attempts to merge online and offline to create “a world of convenience for consumers.”
Use case for consumer-facing robots
Roman believes Mio answers an unfulfilled consumer need.
“This is the first real use case for a consumer-facing robot,” he says. “Whenever you want anything it should already be there. We have the technology to do this, so why aren’t we doing this?
“We can send robots to Mars and do all sort of things there, but we still have to walk to the store when we want a snack. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Mio is still at the R&D phase and has not yet been commercially launched. But the London-based Lithuanian-natives behind it have held a number of public trials and are already speaking with many of the world’s biggest CPG companies.
Outperforming vending machines
During its first public-facing test at a beachside resort in Israel, 70% of people noticed it and half of these interacted with it in some way. According to Roman, 90% of these people understood what it was without any explanation.
In further tests, the most recent of which took place at Zurich train station last month, it has sold four times more per hour than the average vending machine. And Roman predicts when the robot has been refined, this will be improved even further. “We think we can make this 10 times as much as vending machines, he said. “That would be a huge thing for anyone in the CPG industry.”
“At the moment in airports and train stations there are vending machines on every corner. We think two mobile kiosks could service a whole terminal.”
Refining its power
The Mio project started off focusing on last mile delivery for a major international courier company, before the Capsula accelerator in Israel encouraged Roman to explore other use cases because of the relatively low margins available.
Potential use cases outside of vending include product sampling and service provisions. The Mio team were part of the TechStars startup accelerator in Berlin and are now working to refine Mio ahead of a future commercial rollout.
One element that will definitely play a key part in the future of the product is analytics. The anonymised data it collects will allow vendors or brands to tailor their offerings based on things like time of day and location, while it will also be able to give emotional feedback about how the purchase changed a customer’s mood. “This is really important for brands,” says Roman. “They want to know how people react to their new products. With Mio, we can show them.”
One of the most visible refinements from the first version of Mio to the current v2 is the appearance of the robot’s outer shell. A premium car designer was brought in who got rid of the tank track wheels and created a cute and approachable personality for Mio. As well as improving mobility, Roman believes this softer appearance is crucial to the early success of the robot.
“It is a piece of metal, but it has personality now, he says. “Right now we see it as a marketing and distribution tool combined. We think the novelty factor will wear off in 2-5 years so in the future it will be a distribution tool.”
Imagining the future
Looking further ahead Roman has even more ambitious goals for the technology.
“Facebook is working with a technology that lets people type just by thinking. Imagine using that technology with Mio. I see a future where you think that you want something and it instantly appears next to you.”
It is clear that Mio has great potential to disrupt the vending and CPG industries. It will be fascinating to see how it develops over the years.