Tortoise is partnering with hospitality giant Sodexo to bring a mobile smart store -- which is basically a fancy vending machine with wheels -- to Comic-Con this year.
One of Tortoise's robots, laden with Sodexo's carne asada burritos and 20-ounce bottles of Gatorade, will roam the main Pavilion at the San Diego Convention Center to service Comic-Con's estimated crowd of 135,000 attendees.
Tortoise will only have one mobile smart store at the event from July 21 to 24, but this partnership with Sodexo might provide future opportunities for scaling. Sodexo has a footprint on many college campuses across the U.S., for example, and through partnerships with robotic sidewalk delivery company Kiwibot has shown its commitment to trialing new technology.
Comic-Con guests will be able to approach the robot, which will move "at tortoise speed," according to Tortoise co-founder Dmitry Shevelenko. A remote operator will recognize a potentially eager customer and stop the robot, allowing the customer to tap to pay with a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay. This will cause the cart to open, revealing the treats inside. Customers are trusted to take the exact number of burritos or Gatorades that they ordered and be on their merry way. Transactions take less than 15 seconds to complete, says Tortoise.
Tortoise started out using its remote positioning technology to rebalance shared electric scooters. Last year, Tortoise pivoted to robotic sidewalk delivery for supermarkets and convenience store chains, and this year it pivoted again to pursue mobile smart stores exclusively.
The business model differs from a hardware-as-a-service model. Instead, Tortoise uses a take-rate model, wherein it provides the robot and software for free and takes 10% of gross sales.
To date, Tortoise has 40 mobile smart stores deployed across the U.S., said Shevelenko.