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Estonia pioneers next-gen pharmacy tech with self-service vending station

Pharmacy chain Benu has teamed up with Estonian startup Grab2Go to pilot a self-service pharmacy vending station in the town of Rapla.

Estonia’s thriving technology sector has produced another innovative solution, with Grab2Go‘s self-service pharmacy vending station being tested by Benu pharmacy chain in the city of Rapla, North Estonia. The technology has the potential to alleviate the shortage of 24-hour pharmacies, once regulatory changes are made. Benu operates over 1,400 pharmacies in 10 countries.

Combining innovations and security

The unmanned vending station is able to provide a high-quality pharmacy service thanks to Grab2Go’s software that enables a pharmacist to advise customers via telebridge on a screen located at the self-service pharmacy. The device also has cameras that ensure the right product is issued, adding extra security for customers.

Benu's self-service machine

 Benu’s self-service vending machine

Because pharma is a highly regulated industry, Grab2Go’s self-service vending station still faces limitations. As Benu franchise manager Rainer Kasevali explained, the self-service vending station would not improve the availability of medicines and pharmacy goods under current regulations, as it must be located on the premises of an existing pharmacy. It can also only operate during its opening hours.

The pilot project is time-limited, and the vending station may need to be closed if regulations do not change. In addition, prescription medicines cannot be sold without amendments to valid regulations. The pilot project, however, has the opportunity to be a case that triggers regulatory change – this has happened with several other smart automation technologies, such as autonomous delivery vehicles.

“A high-quality pharmacy service requires advice, and in order to ensure a safe and high-quality pharmacy service for customers, a real pharmacist must be available via telebridge to advise the client,” added Mart Viilipus, CEO of Grab2Go.

Going forward and public

Grab2Go, which specialises in autonomous store technologies based on artificial intelligence, was founded by Mart Viilipus, Reio Orasmäe, Ago Mõlder and Lauri Kiivit. The company has previously raised €1M from Madis Müür, Jaak Roosaare and Estban. Besides pharmacies, it also targets convenience stores and petrol stations.

Following the latest launch, the company applied to Nasdaq Tallinn on April 6th to start the process of admitting the company’s shares to trading on Nasdaq Baltic Alternative Market First North. According to Mart Viilipus, the company had planned to file last year but then decided to postpone it until it opened its first robotic pharmacy.

While current regulations limit the pilot project, it’s hoped that the necessary changes can be made in the near future to allow the vending station to be rolled out nationwide. The technology could provide a convenient and accessible solution for people who struggle to access traditional pharmacies, especially those in remote areas.

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