Driverless Grocery Delivery to Come to Arizona

Driverless Grocery Delivery to Come to Arizona

A supermarket giant and a self-driving vehicle start-up will offer a trial grocery-delivery service that uses autonomous vehicles.

Kroger has announced that 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.

So far, only one Fry’s Food Store will offer the service, which customers can use online or through the Fry’s mobile app, the company noted in a statement. Users can place their order based on slot availability and grocery delivery can be scheduled for same-day or next-day delivery by Nuro’s fleet for a $5.95 flat fee with no minimum order. In total Kroger has 2,800 retail food stores under several names, including Food 4 Less, Ralphs and Smith’s.

“We welcome innovative technology that can benefit the lives of Scottsdale residents,” the city’s Mayor Jim Lane said in a statement. “We feel this partnership holds tremendous potential and promise and offers our residents real, not-yet-experienced, convenience for everyday routines.” Arizona’s relaxed approach to self-driving vehicle test regulations have made it a hotbed for the autonomous vehicle industry – the AV division of Google parent company Alphabet is also conducting test services in the state.

Nuro will begin the pilot using its self-driving Toyota Prius fleet and will introduce its custom R1 driverless vehicle in autumn. The vans, made by Nuro in Mountain View, California, are smaller and narrower than most passenger cars and have no place for a driver. The AVs, which sport a windshield in front (although there’s no driver to look through it) also feature a pair of cargo doors on each side that open gullwing-style.

Delivery may become one of the early, limited use cases that get autonomous vehicles into commercial deployment before privately owned, general-purpose AVs come to market. 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 applications including delivery, pop-up stores and even hotel rooms.

However, AVs may be a tougher sell to the American public than many carmakers and Tier 1s have anticipated. That’s, in part, because public perception about the safety of autonomous vehicles has turned negative in the wake of several high-profile fatalities in self-driving cars and, also, possibly owing to a lack of education or familiarity, according to recent research.

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

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