Whether or not your groceries arrives in a van with a driver behind the wheel might not to you so an increasing number of companies are investing in autonomous delivery vehicles to improve efficiency and create significant cost benefits in the long term. Yes … you’ll have to wait and see if those savings will be passed on to you, the customer.
Udelv from San Francisco has already used its autonomous vans for more than 700 driverless deliveries in the San Fran area. Now they've signed the world’s largest deal for a grocery delivery service using self-driving vehicles.
Just Like Kroger’s recent announcement with Nuro, this adds even more momentum to the autonomous vehicle space and particularly to the specialty vehicles concept. Delivery vehicles are often overlooked in analyses of adoption, congestion and regulatory planning. Could non-personal transport be a metric to watch for broad adoption of driverless cars?
First location is Oklahoma City, Oklahoma next year. 10 autonomous vans will transport orders to customers from local supermarkets that include Buy For Less, Uptown Grocery, and Smart Saver.
Like other self-driving delivery service trials, the electric vans will have safety drivers until both Udelv, and the regulators sign them off as fit for fully driverless operation.
“The vehicles will eventually cover thousands of miles of residential roads in what will be one of the largest autonomous driving deployments in the world,” Udelv said in a release.
Udelv’s van has a top speed of 25 mph and a range of around 60 miles. It delivers Level 4 autonomy, meaning it can operate in most scenarios with little to no human intervention.
The van has 18 compartments for storing customer orders. When it arrives for a delivery address, the customer receives a notification on their smartphone. They'll then meet the van and access their order by tapping a code to unlock the compartment with their items.
Udelv’s deal comes soon after another California-based startup, Nuro, launched a driverless delivery service — on a very small scale — in Arizona with supermarket chain Kroger. Like Udelv, Nuro also has a purpose-built autonomous vehicle, but it’s using self-driving Prius cars until final testing and certification of its own vehicle is done.
It’s not clear how this will benefit people who may find it difficult to move their groceries from the van to their home, such as senior citizens or those with disabilities. Until a box-carrying robot rolls up in the vans delivery runs will continue to have a human to carry the order into homes.
Autonomous vehicles are developing fast, though it’s likely to be some time before you have a chance of purchasing your very own fully driverless car. The industry is looking to exploit platforms that indicate a more measured rollout for the technology like self-driving taxi and shuttle services, as well as delivery services using driverless vehicles.