A UK online supermarket has conducted what might be the first self-driving grocery delivery. Ocado, which has no physical stores and delivers food directly from its warehouses, is carrying out a 10-day trial of the technology on the streets of London. Deliveries are made using a mini self-driving truck developed by UK tech firm Oxbotica. Ocado is hoping to sell its setup to other retailers—including in the US.
“We see it as adding choice,” Paul Clarke, CTO of Ocado’s tech arm, Ocado Technologies, tells The Verge. “There are times when people will want their 50-item delivery brought to the kitchen table; times when they will order online and collect in store; and times when they’re coming back from the airport at three in the morning and just want a few things delivered quickly.” Situations like this are when Ocado thinks self-driving deliveries will come in handy.
This week’s London trial is tightly controlled, but offers a solid proof-of-concept. Oxbotica’s “CargoPod” mini-truck holds eight boxes of groceries (compared to 80 in a regular vehicle) and smoothly navigates three kilometers of residential streets, using the normal combination of cameras and sensors. The vehicle itself isn’t without a driver, though: two minders are sitting inside, one from Ocado and one from Oxbotica, to make sure nothing goes wrong. Customers have been able to order their food online as normal and have to collect the delivery themselves, pressing a button on the side of the vehicle to unlock their crate.
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