Location Wanted for New Robotic Retail Unit

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DES MOINES, Iowa --If you live in certain neighborhoods and don't have a car, it can be difficult to bring affordable, quality food home. A new non-profit has a plan to change that.

Eat Greater Des Moines plans to bring a new robotic retail unit to a city neighborhood this spring. Aubrey Alvarez with Eat Greater Des Moines said, “It’s an opportunity to put this robotic kind of retail. So, we don’t like to call it a vending machine, but that’s what it’s closest to, and trying to put that in a food desert or an area where there’s typically low access to quality food items.”

The machine is called the Oasis 24seven. The $150,000 to $200,000 machine is about the size of a shipping container. It can hold 200 to 800 hundred items weighing one ounce to 10 pounds. Alvarez explained, "When someone selects their items, they'll use a computer screen to kind of scroll through selections. And, then a robotic arm pulls items off of the shelves and puts it on a conveyor belt."

Items could include bread, eggs, milk, produce, even salads. The machine will accept cash, credit/debit cards and SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Alvarez said, “There's some similar kinds of machines that are on college campuses and things like that, but we're really, it's kind of a unique approach to trying to combat low access to food by using this type of technology."

The group would like to have the unit in place by this spring. But, it needs a location first. Leaders have ideas, like downtown. The machine can be moved. Eat Greater Des Moines is holding a contest on its website so people can suggest the best place. Nominations are due by February 25th.

The project recently got a boost in funding by winning the first Ignite Community Innovation Challenge. The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, along with seven other organizations and businesses joined as innovation investors to help fund a non-profit’s project that would help the community in a new way. Eat Greater Des Moines won $30,000.

Angela Dethlefs-Trettin with the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines said, "The simplistic way that you could deliver food using a variety of different payment options I think was really appealing to the community and something different that's worth a try in greater Des Moines."

Click here for to submit nominations for the robotic retail unit on Eat Greater Des Moines’ website.


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