Kroger’s efforts to play catch-up with Amazon in grocery delivery have taken it to the fringes of the “last mile” and a new partnership with an autonomous-driving startup that was hatched by guys who were involved in getting Google’s driverless-car operation off the ground. It’s the latest indication that the commercial logistics business is likely to have much more to do with shaping the early days of self-driven automotive transportation than the consumer side is.
The Cincinnati-based supermarket chain, largest in the United States, said that it will begin piloting an “on-road, fully autonomous delivery experience” with Nuro, maker of the world’s first unmanned road vehicle, in a city that the retailer hasn’t yet announced, beginning this fall.
The partnership will allow customers to place same-day delivery orders through Kroger’s ClickList digital ordering system and Nuro’s app. During the test, orders will be delivered by Nuro’s fleet of autonomous vehicles, with human safety drivers to start out. This will be the first application and deployment of Nuro’s hardware and software.
Domino’s is another non-automotive company that is doing heavy testing of self-driven vehicles for its delivery purposes, and there are and will be more.Among other things, initiatives like Kroger’s and Domino’s are likely to result in a proliferation of varying commercial automotive forms for the autonomous-vehicle era. Without the requirement to accommodate human operators, self-driven vehicles will shed many of the physical constraints that keep today’s human-driven vehicles pretty similar in shape, form and functions.
Nuro’s R1 driverless vehicles were unveiled in January and are thinner and shorter than normal vehicles. R1 “looks like a toaster on wheels, or an oversized, intelligent lunchbox covered in cameras, radar and laser sensors,” said TheVerge.com.
Kroger’s intention is to “change the status quo of grocery delivery through convenience at a low price” and “allow customers to get what they need, when they need it, wherever they are.”
“We have already started to redefine the grocery customer experience and expand the coverage area for our anything, anytime and anywhere offering,” stated Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer. “Partnering with Nuro, a leading technology company, will create customer value by providing Americans access to fast and convenient delivery at a fair price.”
Nuro Co-Founder Dave Ferguson, one of the ex-Google guys, stated that “unmanned delivery will be a game-changer for local commerce. Our safe, reliable and affordable service, combined with Kroger’s ubiquitous brand, is a powerful first step in our mission to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life.”