Grocery giant Albertsons announced today that it has partnered with Tortoise to pilot remote-controlled robot grocery delivery at two Safeway stores in Northern California.
Tortoise is a little different from other players in the robot delivery space. First, the Tortoise bot is bigger than other rover bots. It can carry 120 pounds and is meant to haul a week’s worth of groceries. Second, the Tortoise is not meant for on-demand delivery, but rather scheduled drop offs (like a weekly grocery order). Finally Tortoise is different because it is eschewing autonomous driving for full teleoperation of its robots, meaning there is a human always remotely in control as the robot travels from store to door.
Tortoise Co-Founder and President, Dmitry Shevelenko, told me by phone today that Safeway will be using the second generation Tortoise bot, which has improved functionality and a flatbed carrying platform. Orders will be placed inside Safeway-branded containers that have Bluetooth locks. Eventually, Shevelenko said that these containers will be motorized, which will allow them to slide off the flatbed of the robot and sit outside a person’s home so groceries can be dropped off even when someone isn’t there.
Safeway’s first Tortoise tests will be in the northern California towns Tracy and Windsor. As Shevelenko pointed out, these suburban locations are actually significant because it shows robot delivery is “not just an urban phenomenon.” This type of suburban location is also being targeted by Refraction and its rugged three-wheeled, bike lane-riding robot.
During these Safeway tests, Tortoise robots will be accompanied by humans, which is not uncommon as city and local government figure out how to safely deploy robots on public city sidewalks. For instance, Postmates’ autonomous Serve robot still has a human escort while making deliveries in the West Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The Tortoise partnership is just the latest in a string of automation moves for Albertsons. The company is expanding the use of robotic micro-fulfillment of e-commerce orders in the Bay Area, and more recently, it started testing a robotic kiosk in Chicago for automated curbside pickup.
Tortoise is the latest robot delivery company to officially hit the road making commercial deliveries. In addition to Postmates and Refraction, Starship and Kiwibot are also scurrying around Modesto and San Jose, respectively. For a broader picture of the robot delivery space, check out The Delivery Robot Market Report I wrote for our Spoon Plus member service.