Just a few months ago, Chowbotics and fellow Bay Area makers from a high-tech vending machine that sold cappuccinos, hot ramen, and croissants warmly discussed their appeal in terms of freshness and 24-hour comfort. Then COVID-19 makes dangerous food orders for workers and customers. Suddenly, the thought of machine-smoothed food seemed less new and more like a survival strategy.
Chowbotics chief executive Rick Wilmer said salad vending machine Sally’s demand had skyrocketed since the pandemic struck, especially in hospital cafeterias and grocery stores that had removed salad bars because of safety concerns.
“If you are an N95 mask company or a ventilator company, and you are in a business that is driven as a result of an epidemic, that’s really good luck,” he said. “I can’t call it luck. But [we have] a solution that fits the world as it is today. “
Given the enthusiasm of Silicon Valley for delivery robots, it is inevitable that technology companies will turn their attention to vending machines. According to the National Automatic Merchandising Association, more than 4 million vending machines are deployed throughout the United States, serving 40 million people per day. The Association estimates that vending machine manufacturers, operators and brokers contribute $ 10.1 billion to the U.S. economy. in 2017.
Chowbotics founder Deepak Sekar, originally a mechanical engineer in the flash-memory industry, said that to make Sally do deceptively simple tasks such as providing the right amount of mangoes or fragile lettuce, the company took advantage of advances in robotics, sensors and mobile technology to producing machines that it sells for around $ 35,000.