Online supermarket Ocado is testing autonomous delivery cars in the Greenwich borough of London.
The cars still have human onboard supervisors, but Ocado hopes the cars can bring their customers apples and peanut butter all by themselves one day soon.
People current order around 50 items at a time, enough to make the delivery worth the cost for the retailer.
But if these range-roving grocery carts work out, they could change the business case for small-order deliveries, said the head of the technology company behind the Ocado’s digital grocery store.
“In order to have smaller deliveries, like just some milk and some bread for example, we’d need a cheaper way of delivering and an autonomous vehicle might provide that opportunity,” said David Sharp, Head of Ocado Technology 10x.
The “CargoPod” is made by technology firm Oxbotica and uses the company’s autonomous Selenium software to perform real-time navigation.
That software uses data from lasers and cameras mounted on the car to spot dogs and cyclists on the path ahead.
“But more importantly, to help us navigate right to a customer’s front door with their shopping onboard,” said chief executive of Oxbotica, Graeme Smith.
The onboard supervisors are currently monitoring the vehicles’ movements and can step in if a vehicle decides to go Maximum Overdrive on the streets of London.
The autonomous curry-ier is battery-powered and hardly makes a noise. It has eight separate cargo lockers with doors that light up so that customers know which one holds their groceries when they pop down from their apartment.
“The vehicle itself is kind of simple, what we’re really trialling here is the complex software that goes underneath that,” says Smith.
Ocado makes about 170,000 grocery deliveries a week, which gives Oxbotica lots of opportunities to test and refine the software’s algorithms.
For Ocado, the trial lets them explore the logistics and practicalities of deploying self-driving cars.
“Looking at autonomous delivery technology is enabling us to consider another option in the last-mile offering,” says David Sharp, head of Ocado Technology 10x.
If all goes according to plan, the testing will pave the way for a wider roll-out of autonomous vehicles.
Matthew Little for NTD