Self-driving grocery and food delivery just got one step closer to becoming a reality in California. The Golden State announced yesterday that light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles can now be tested and put to commercial use on the state’s public roads after going through the proper permitting process with the Department of Motor Vehicles (h/t The Verge).
From the press announcement:
Under revised regulations approved Monday by the Office of Administrative Law, companies with a DMV permit can operate autonomous delivery vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds. The DMV can begin approving new applications in 30 days. Qualifying vehicles include autonomous passenger cars, midsized pickup trucks and cargo vans carrying goods such as pizza or groceries.
You can read the full list of requirements here.
This is good news for startups like Nuro and Robomart, both of which use pod-like low-speed vehicles for delivery, are half the size of regular cars, and do not have space for a driver. Though both companies are based in California, the bulk of their public testing has occurred out of that state. Nuro in particular has done grocery delivery in Arizona and Texas in partnership with Kroger, while Robomart announced a test with ShopRite in Boston.
But the new rules are also a boon to AutoX, which operates full-sized autonomous vehicles for food delivery as well as mobile commerce. Presumably, this would also help a company like Refraction, which has three-wheeled autonomous vehicles that are smaller than Nuro’s pods but still operate on roads, if they choose to enter the California market.
Some autonomous grocery and food delivery has already been happening in California. The aforementioned AutoX has been operating in San Jose, and online grocer Farmstead has been working with self-driving van startup Udelv for grocery delivery. In those examples, though, a human driver is on-board for safety reasons.
As we’ve covered before, advancements in delivery technology, whether it be self-driving vehicles or high-flying drones, present a challenge for local and city governments. They must balance the desire to adopt new tech while maintaining the safety of its citizens as well as recouping revenues lost from traditional systems being replaced (think: parking fees lost from autonomous ride-sharing). It’s happening quickly and in the coming year we can expect a flurry of new laws across the country as states try to adapt.