Ocado is partnering with autonomous vehicle software firm Oxbotica to develop new systems for self-driving vehicles and robots – including potential future machines that could deliver groceries from “kerb to kitchen”.
The British technology company, which is best known for its work with Waitrose and M&S, creates robotics, AI software and automated grocery systems for retailers.
It hopes to showcase new robotic or vehicle prototypes within the next two years, which could include autonomous vehicles designed to drop food and other products off in a ‘last-mile delivery’ or to drive around Ocado’s fulfilment centre buildings.
Oxbotica, which is headquartered in Oxford, has successfully trialled various driverless shuttles and cars across the UK in the past few years, including a fleet of driverless pods that followed a predetermined two-mile route in Greenwich, London in 2017.
The two companies first worked together on a two-week trial in 2017 on an autonomous delivery vehicle that dropped off shopping in Greenwich.
Ocado will equip a number of its current delivery vans and warehouse vehicles with kit which could include video camera, LiDAR (light-detection and ranging technology, which driverless cars use to navigate) and Radar to sense and detect surrounding obstacles and to capture data.
Oxbotica will then analyse the findings and make suggestions to improve current systems or to develop new types of hardware or software.
“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners’ customer fulfilment centres and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility,” said Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado.
Driverless vehicles and robots are areas many supermarkets and major retailers are exploring. Walmart, the US grocery giant and former owner of Asda, announced earlier this week it had invested in autonomous vehicle firm Cruise, following the announcement of a pilot programme to use the self-driving cars to deliver shopping to customers in Arizona last November. Similarly, fellow US supermarket chain Kroger teamed up with self-driving company Nuro to test its fleet of Toyota Priuses in 2018.