AutoX Pilots Autonomous Grocery Delivery Service in California

The AutoX pilot program includes self-driving cars with temperature-controlled interiors. Customers place their orders through a mobile app.

Self-driving vehicle startup AutoX is joining the race to provide autonomous grocery delivery services, announcing a delivery and mobile-store pilot program in San Jose, Caliornia.The pilot will let users order and receive produce and other goods, which will be delivered by the company’s fleet of self-driving cars.

After placing an order through the AutoX mobile app, the groceries will be delivered in a temperature-controlled sedan. In addition to their delivery capabilities, the vehicles are also equipped with mobile shop shelves in their back seat right windows. “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,” AutoX chief operating officer Jewel Li said in a statement.

The service will be available to customers in geo-fenced areas near AutoX’s headquarters in San Jose, with regular expansions planned every few weeks. In addition, AutoX is using the pilot program to test a smart-scheduling and fleet-management system. It noted in a press release it is looking for collaborations with retail, e-commerce, last-mile delivery partners. The service’s launch partners include GrubMarket, a San Francisco-based start-up that connects larger brick and mortar stores like Whole Foods directly to farms, and DeMartini a locally-owned produce store in neighboring Los Altos.

From a technology standpoint, AutoX is betting on a camera-based perception platform in place of a more expensive LiDAR-based system of navigation. The company’s cameras generate 3D-point clouds and estimate depth accurately from the input of two stereo cameras. The process enables the car to paint a picture of its surroundings with, AutoX claims, much higher definition than lidar technologies offer.

Earlier this month supermarket giant Kroger announced Scottsdale, Arizona, would be the site of its autonomous vehicle (AV) grocery-delivery pilot program. The company and Silicon Valley start-up Nuro, which specializes in driverless delivery vehicles, announced a partnership earlier this summer to begin testing grocery delivery using Nuro’s robots.

Toyota and Ford have both targeted this segment with their self-driving efforts: Ford plans food delivery pilots with Postmates and Domino’s Pizzas, and Toyota is designing a flexible platform called the e-Palette for use in situations including delivery, pop-up stores and even hotel rooms.

Way back in 2015 German auto giant Audi trialed a different concept for delivering goods to consumers using connected vehicles. Working with partners DHL Parcel and Amazon Prime, Audi was developing a system that turns customers’ cars into safe-deposit boxes. However, Audi was not the first to consider third-party access to trunk space. Volvo revealed its grocery-delivery system at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona a year earlier. In partnership with Ericsson, it chose the example of groceries being ordered online and then delivered to a car’s trunk using a tracked temporary-key access.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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