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Kroger said yesterday that it has begun testing the use of driverless delivery vehicles in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The New York Times writes that “Kroger’s pilot program started on Thursday with a robotic vehicle parked outside one of its Fry’s supermarkets in Scottsdale. A store clerk loaded grocery bags into the back seat of a car with two men in the front seats, one with a laptop. Both were there to monitor the car’s performance.”

The Times goes on: “Under the self-driving service, shoppers can order same-day or next-day delivery online or on a mobile app for a flat rate of about $6. After the order is placed, a driverless vehicle will deliver the groceries curbside. Customers are required to be present to collect them.

“During the next phase of testing in the fall, deliveries will be made by an autonomous vehicle with no human aboard. The vehicles will probably be opened with a numeric code.”

Tech Crunch writes the following about Nuro, the self-driving startup working with Kroger: “Nuro’s intent is to use its self-driving technology in the last mile for the delivery of local goods and services. That could be things like groceries, dry cleaning, an item you left at a friend’s house or really anything within city limits that can fit inside one of Nuro’s vehicles. Nuro has two compartments that can fit up to six grocery bags each.”

Kroger was an ideal partner for Nuro, the story says, “because of its smart shelf technology and partnership with Ocado around automated fulfillment centers.”

The Times notes that Kroger is not alone in its testing of driverless vehicles:

“Waymo, Google’s autonomous vehicle project, started a similar pilot program last month at Walmart stores in Phoenix. In that case, self-driving vehicles transport customers to and from their selected Walmart location to pick up online grocery orders.

“That is not the only venture Waymo has in metropolitan Phoenix. Waymo has been trying out a service where bus and light-rail riders can order an autonomous car to take them to their nearest transit stop. Employees with Valley Metro, the agency that manages Phoenix-area transit lines, are serving as test riders. The project, started earlier this month, has Waymo employees gathering data from test drives, the agency said.”
KC's View:
These efforts are interesting, inevitable, and important in terms of technological investment and innovation … but they only are a piece of what Kroger and these other companies need to do. That said, if this works I suspect we’re going to see this roll out more quickly than many folks would suspect … mostly because these days most innovations happen faster than they would’ve in the past.