Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US, has announced plans for autonomous grocery deliveries using self-driving vehicles.
Intended to operate on public roads, the vehicles are being developed by technology firm Nuro and will be used to cover the 'last mile' of the delivery chain - in other words, getting food and other goods from the store to the buyer's home.
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The plan is for customers to place orders through Kroger's ClickList ordering system and Nuro's smartphone app. The order will be loaded by hand onto a vehicle at the customer's nearest Kroger store, then sent on its way to make the delivery.
A pilot for the delivery system will begin this fall, Kroger says, although the location of this test is yet to be announced. That said, there is no shortage in options for Kroger to explore, as it operates 2,800 stores across 35 states.
Founder by a team of ex-Googler engineers in 2016, Nuro is an autonomous vehicle company, but instead of transporting people in robotic taxis, it focuses exclusively on ferrying goods without drivers.
This means Nuro's vehicles are smaller than cars, and feature two compartments each with space for up to six grocery bags each.
"We are incredibly excited about the potential of our innovative partnership with Nuro to bring the future of grocery delivery to customers today," said Kroger chief digital officer Yael Cosset.
Dave Ferguson, co-founder of Nuro, said: "Unmanned delivery will be a game-changer for local commerce, and together with Kroger, we're thrilled to test this new delivery experience to bring grocery customers new levels of convenience and value."
Ferguson added that he believes the autonomous delivery system will be "a powerful first step in our mission to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life."
This week also saw Amazon announce a last-mile delivery service of its own. But instead of using autonomous vehicles, Amazon's plan (for now, at least) is to run a Delivery Service Partners program, where entrepreneurs can run their own local delivery network of up to 40 Amazon Prime-branded vans.
The move is a clear sign that Amazon is concerned about how much it spends using courier companies like FedEx and UPS for its deliveries. Amazon said exactly that in its annual 10-K filing, noting: "If we are unable to negotiate acceptable terms with these companies or they experience performance problems or other difficulties, it could negatively impact our operating results and customer experience."
Separately, Amazon is also working on delivery goods by autonomous drone, with a service called Prime Air.