CHICAGO -- It’s easy to imagine that everything worth anything in the technology world comes out of Silicon Valley, but that’s simply not the case. Whether influenced by strict U.S. regulations or a circumstantial meeting of the minds somewhere else, companies in other countries are testing and releasing technology that could change the way convenience stores operate in the United States and around the world.
Modern checkout technology, drone and robot delivery, and electric cars increasingly offer both challenges and opportunities for c-stores.
Here are four examples of tech innovation from other countries that will likely strike a chord in U.S. convenience stores …
1. Move over, Amazon
While Amazon continues to test its smart c-store concept in Seattle, 7-Eleven, Irving, Texas, is working on a similar concept in South Korea. The global convenience-store brand has launched its first smart convenience store, 7-Eleven Signature, that includes a biopay system and futuristic checkout technology. The store was launched in association with Lotte Card and Lotte Data Communication, South Korea.
The HandiPay system recognizes individuals by their veins and identifies the person’s body with a preassigned credit card. When checking out, customers put their purchases through a conveyor belt, where the entire items are scanned to locate their barcodes. The Korea Herald reports that the system will be improved with artificial intelligence that will help identify products without barcodes.
The store is open to Lotte customers only for the first month or two before opening to the public, similar to Amazon’s testing strategy for Amazon Go and AmazonFresh Pickup.
2. Robots hit the sidewalks
R2-D2-esque robots are busily trundling along city streets. They’re being tested in communities all over America, including Washington, D.C., two counties in Virginia, and Redwood City, Calif.
But these little delivery bots weren’t pumped out by Silicon Valley. They were dreamed up by Starship Technologies located in Tallinn, Estonia. Ahti Heinla, the company’s co-founder and CEO, is one of the Skype inventors. It may be easy to imagine that Estonia is behind in modern technology, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The country has declared internet access a basic human right, and grade-schoolers learn programming in school, some as early as kindergarten.
3. Charge the car on the go
Smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm, San Diego, Calif., recently tested a way to charge electric cars while they’re on the move. But the tests aren’t happening in America. Instead, they’re taking place on a test track in Versailles, France. Electric vehicles already represent an existential threat to fuel retailers, but electric vehicles that can charge while they drive could change the game even more if implemented commercially.
Qualcomm currently supplies chips to both Android and Apple phone makers, and is working to stake its place in the automotive chip market. CEO Steven Mollenkopf has called automotive technology and the "internet of things" a “tremendous opportunity” for the company.
4. Drone's so heavy
One of China’s largest retailers, JD, plans to develop drones capable of carrying loads weighing a ton or more over long-distance deliveries. The plan is meant to more easily provide rural customers with consumer goods and urban customers with farm produce.
Beijing-based JD made its first deliveries to customers using smaller drones in November 2016. The company currently operates a nationwide network of thousands of delivery stations manned by 65,000 employees serving 235 million regular customers.