Farmstead, the grocery startup that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to precisely manage its inventory, announced yesterday that it has been piloting grocery delivery via self-driving vehicles in the Bay Area.
This autonomous delivery is made possible through a partnership with fellow Bay Area startup Udelv, which makes the autonomous delivery vehicles and has been running other grocery delivery pilots in Oklahoma. The two companies began this latest pilot last month in the Bay Area.
Farmstead customers receiving their orders via self-driving vehicle are notified when their delivery has arrived and given a code via SMS. Customers use that code to open a designated compartment on the delivery van and retrieve their groceries. For now, there will be a human operator still in the delivery van for safety reasons, per California regulations.
Farmstead’s hook in the grocery world is that it has developed an AI platform that uses factors such as product popularity and expiration dates, to accurately stock its shelves without over or under-purchasing items.
Using an autonomous vehicle can extend that accuracy into routing and delivery. “We have a car that’s controlled by code,” said Farmstead CEO and co-founder Pradeep Elankumaran said during a phone interview. “That’s extremely compelling to us.” Autonomous vehicles will get more metrics along its delivery path, picking up data on things like time per stop, etc.. Using that data can help Farmstead continually refine its logistical routes.
For example, Elankumaran said, if a customer isn’t home for a delivery, rather than having a human debating whether or not to wait for the person to arrive or figure out what to do next, an autonomous vehicle can be programmed to wait X minutes and then re-engineer their route automatically to return to the house in an efficient manner.
Autonomous vehicles are becoming quite the rage in the grocery industry. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, AutoX is piloting its self-driving grocery delivery program, and in Arizona, Kroger is testing out autonomous delivery in a partnership with Nuro.
For its part, Farmstead also “farms” out its AI platform to other grocers. Elankumaran wouldn’t provide any details on how that program is proceeding, but now we’ll see if and how autonomous delivery plays into the offering as well.