Motorola Unveils Phone Vending Machines

Consumers needing a cell phone or accessories on the run have a new option now that Motorola Inc. has rolled out a series of what the company calls "robotic stores."

The vending machinelike stores unveiled Wednesday will carry about 30 products, initially including 12 phones and 18 accessories, said Bob Many, Motorola's director of automated retailing.

The "Instantmoto" will go into 20 malls and airports nationwide as part of a pilot program. Chicago has three outlets operating, including one in the Macy's store downtown.

The program will be expanded depending on its success, Many said.

Phone customers will be able to purchase mid- to high-end models, including the Razr and the Q, and can buy with or without a service plan.

Motorola says it is the first retailer to sell electronic gadgets this way. The robo-stores are operated by San Francisco-based Zoom Systems.

Zoom "doesn't consider this vending," said Gower Smith, the company's chief executive, but vending machines are precisely what the stores resemble.

Unlike vending machines, however, they don't drop the products from their racks. Instead, the products are gently delivered to consumers by a robotic arm.

And the stores are run from a central location, much the same way that automated teller machines are operated.

Schaumburg-based Motorola is the world's second-largest mobile phone maker behind Finland's Nokia.