If you live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, you may have already encountered autonomous vehicles delivering passengers from one location to another.
Now, Scottsdale, Ariz., residents can have their groceries delivered via robotically driven vehicles, as well.
This week Kroger — the nation’s largest grocery chain — announced a new partnership with Nuro, a Silicon Valley start-up that produces a self-driving, unmanned vehicle known as the R1 that operates on major roadways alongside cars. As of Tuesday, customers have been able to have their groceries delivered to their homes by the autonomous vehicle with a design inspired by a Formula One racing helmet.
“Kroger customers are looking for new, convenient ways to feed their families and purchase the products they need quickly through services like pickup and delivery,” Yael Cosset, chief digital officer for Kroger, said in a news release. “Our autonomous delivery pilot with Nuro over the past few months continues to prove the benefit of the flexible and reliable technology."
How does it work?
After making grocery purchases online, customers schedule a same-day or next-day delivery time for the R1 or one of Nuro’s self-driving Prius vehicles, which are also in operation. The R1 uses public roads, does not have a human backup driver and can reach 25 mph.
Nuro was founded by two alumni from Google’s self-driving car project. The company says that as far as its team knows, the unmanned service — which costs $5.95 per drop-off — is the first of its kind. Regardless, the autonomous delivery service will compete with a growing number of big-name firms in the grocery-delivery space such as Amazon and Walmart.
A July 2017 Gallup poll found that 4 percent of Americans reported shopping for groceries online on a weekly basis, with younger urban dwellers most likely to do so. While those numbers may sound discouraging, Gallup researchers concluded that they highlight the industry’s potential for large-scale changes.
“This pattern — highly frequent grocery shopping occurring mostly in person — highlights the theoretically enormous potential for growth in the online grocery business,” Gallup reported.
“Amazon’s purchase of the retail grocer Whole Foods recently underscored this possibility, giving rise to speculation the online giant will use the grocery chain as a launching pad to expand its online operations into the food sector," the report added.
In Miami, Ford has already teamed up with Walmart and Postmates to create a delivery service using autonomous vehicles. The San Francisco-based start-up Udelv has begun making grocery delivers in the Bay Area and in Oklahoma City. Known for its bright orange vehicles, the company announced this week plans to begin delivering automobile parts to businesses in Houston.
In August, the start-up AutoX launched a pilot in San Jose, delivering “fresh produce and other goods” via the company’s autonomous vehicles, with a twist:
“You can order goods from an app and get them delivered by a self-driving vehicle; or, our self-driving car brings a shelf of goods to you, and you can select and purchase onsite in front of your house,” the company said.
Robotic delivery is not limited to food, either.
Last year, Washington, D.C., and Redwood, Calif., residents were able to have food delivered from local restaurants by a small, boxy robot created by Starship Technologies.
The company recently unveiled plans to broaden its delivery service beyond food to include packages, a move that led it to declare itself “the world’s first robot package delivery service.”
The package delivery service is not available to everyone just yet. The company said it’s rolling out the service in Milton Keynes, England, and will expand to the San Francisco Bay area in the next few months.