Autonomous grocery delivery buggies may roam U.S. neighborhoods if Kroger’s pilot program works out. The largest American supermarket chain announced a partnership with Mountain View, California-based Nuro this week to test the concept of driverless home deliveries. The pilot started on Thursday, August 16, at a single Fry’s Food and Drug store in Scottsdale, Arizona, according to TechCrunch.
No minimum order is required for the service during the pilot, although a $6 delivery charge applies to all orders. Orders are available via the store’s website or mobile app.
The initial testing will not deploy Nuro’s purpose-built vehicle, described below, but will use self-driving Toyota Prius cars.
“The Priuses share many software and hardware systems with the R1 custom vehicle, so while we complete final certification and testing of the R1, the Prius will begin delivering groceries and help us improve the overall service and customer experience,” a Nuro spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Nuro applies robotics, artificial intelligence, and computer vision technology in partnership with local businesses looking for innovative ways to deliver goods that are cost effective for merchants and convenient for customers.
“We are incredibly excited about the potential of our innovative partnership with Nuro to bring the future of grocery delivery to customers today,” says Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer. “As part of Restock Kroger, we have already started to redefine the grocery customer experience and expand the coverage area for our anything, anytime and anywhere offering. Partnering with Nuro, a leading technology company, will create customer value by providing Americans access to fast and convenient delivery at a fair price.”
Customers in the pilot will place same-day delivery orders using Kroger’s existing ClickList online ordering system. With ClickList, a delivery driver receives the customer’s name, phone number, and delivery address once the order is ready. In the test program, however, the customer’s information will be passed to Nuro’s app.
Nuro’s fully electric, unmanned four-wheeled vehicles that will be deployed in the full-service launch have two separate locking sections. Depending on their size, grocery orders will be placed in one or both of the secured holding areas. Customers will access the compartments to retrieve their products using smartphone codes they received when they placed their orders.
Shaped roughly like a toaster, with cameras and sensors mounted on a lateral arch on the roof, the Nuro weighs about 1,500 pounds. Mounted beneath the floor, the battery pack and electric motors account for most of the weight. Nuro states the vehicle is nearly 40 inches wide but doesn’t publish the length. The interior compartments are rated to carry a combined cargo weight of up to 243 pounds, Nuro says.
“Unmanned delivery will be a game-changer for local commerce, and together with Kroger, we’re thrilled to test this new delivery experience to bring grocery customers new levels of convenience and value,” said Dave Ferguson, Co-Founder, Nuro. “Our safe, reliable, and affordable service, combined with Kroger’s ubiquitous brand, is a powerful first step in our mission to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life.”
With approximately 2,800 stores in 35 states, autonomous delivery service isn’t Kroger’s first tech foray. In 2017 the chain tested product scanning in the supermarket aisles to save shoppers time in checkout lines.
Updated on August 16: Added details of the first phase of testing in Scottsdale, Arizona.