Nuro’s vehicles are “cars” in that they zip about on four wheels, but they are actually more like sleek, space-age pods built specifically for delivery. They are about half the size of a Toyota Corolla, have different compartments to hold groceries (and more), have a top speed of 25 mph, and oh yeah, no driver.
The partnership will eventually allow customers of Kroger‘s, which has 2,800 stores in 35 states, to order groceries and have them delivered that same day by one of Nuro’s li’l autonomous delivery vehicles. A pilot program between the two companies will roll out this fall, but details on that haven’t been announced yet.
The move from Kroger hits the gas, as it were, on the company betting big on automation. Kroger recently upped its investment in U.K.-based Ocado, and will bring that company’s smart, robot-driven warehouse technology and delivery logistics systems to the U.S.. Kroger will build 20 automated Ocado-style warehouses here over the next three years. So the robot warehouse will pack your groceries, which will then be delivered by self-driving car.
The competition to delivery your groceries fastest and become your supermarket of choice is fierce. Amazon, Albertsons, Walmart, and Target are all ramping up and rolling out two-hour delivery services across the country.
But this announcement should light a fire under delivery services like Instacart and Postmates, who could see their human-powered delivery networks usurped by tireless, unpaid delivery vehicles. Both Instacart and Postmates have done robot delivery partnerships with companies like Robby, who make smaller robots. Postmates also announced a partnership with Ford at CES this year for self-driving car deliveries.
The biggest hurdle facing Kroger may not be rival retailers, however. It could be city and state laws. Last year San Francisco tightened rules around delivery robots, and self-driving cars have made headlines this year by being involved in crashes, sometimes tragically fatal ones.
That isn’t stopping companies from getting into the self-driving delivery vehicle space. In addition to the aforementioned Ford program, CES also saw Toyota unveiling its customizeable e-Palette autonomous delivery vehicles that it hopes to have running around Tokyo in time for the 2020 Olympic games. And Robotmart wants to use self-driving vehicles to bring the grocery store to your door.
While we’re still a ways out from those autonomous delivery vehicles scurrying around neighborhood streets, moves like this from giants like Kroger will help accelerate them becoming a reality.