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Anyone remember Big Trak?

Robots are here and they seem to be aimed at alleviating the staffing crisis across Food and Drink industries - from deliveries to hospitality. With at least two separate companies at IFE 2023 exhibiting their robotic offering for foodservice, we decided to send one of our consultants to try out the nearest equivalent - Co-Op grocery delivery automation. Little did we know what we were about to uncover about our colleague...

I totally appreciate that this may mean nothing to many of you, but Big Trak was THE toy of the early 1980’s – an actual robot truck that could drive around your living room following your commands!  My mate Jared had one, and it was awesome!  Yes, I was a tiny bit jealous.

So what has this got to do with the modern world, I hear you ask?  Well, Big Trak is back.  Sort of.  Only now, you don’t need to programme it to follow you round your living room – it guides it’s way directly to your door using cameras, GPs and other such witchcraft, delivering your groceries from Co-op!

Picture the scene.  It’s a Thursday and it’s a teachers strike day, so my normal work-from-home lunchtime routine now needs to cater for two – me and my daughter Harriet.  Only one thing for it – summon up Big Trak and get a pizza and some IRN-BRU for lunch.  Yes, old habits die hard – Scotland’s other national drink will always have a place in my heart.  I know it’s not the healthiest lunch in the world, but it will be tasty!  Lets see if this really is the future, should we?

After a short wait it's here!  And it is surprisingly Big-Trak like, just updated for 2023. The process really couldn’t have been easier –35 minutes from order to delivery, all tracked on the Starship App.  No internal combustion engine required to drive to a store, a really simple process and quick too – a great service, which I think we’ll use again.  Especially as you get a “Just roll with it” sticker and a discount card for your next order!

It doesn’t stop with my lunchtime delivery though.  A week later I’m in Belfast International airport dodging their delivery robots silently gliding around the floor of their food court to bring you your pre-flight meals.  As others stand and stare I’m getting a bit blasé about all this now – after all, I’m becoming a pro at this automation business.

Left to Right, Order Confirmation, Freebies, Foodservice Robots from IFE

We’re all seeing more of this automation in all aspects of our lives, but is it a good thing?

On the one hand these advances in technology help to solve the challenges around how to deliver the final mile – or the final few yards – of customers orders.  We know that historically this has been hard to do profitably, but it’s now becoming even more challenging to find staff to carry out these roles, so maybe automation really is the answer?  

On the flip side there is a wonderful richness to human interaction that you’re never going to be able to replicate with the smartest of AI robot technology, so while it’s doubtless very clever, is technology always the answer?

I will say one thing – seeing a fleet of 12 of the Co-op Starship robots lined up outside my local store as I drove past yesterday did bring a smile to my face, and they’re getting loads of mentions on our local Social Media streams, so they’re certainly earning their PR value!

Now, if only it could take the dog for her lunchtime walk as well…..!

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Article by Dan Beck

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