The Kroger Co. could soon unleash a fleet of autonomous grocery delivery vehicles across the United States if its on-road, fully autonomous pilot program is successful.
Kroger, the largest American supermarket chain announced a new partnership with California-based Nuro Thursday to test driverless home deliveries. The pilot program could begin as early as the fourth quarter in an unnamed region.
“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.”
While supermarkets and grocery stores are rushing into home deliveries — unlocking a tranche of more gig-economy jobs for heavily indebted millennials, Kroger and Nuro could soon rain on the parade as their new partnership uses fully autonomous vehicles to overcome the expensive challenge of “last mile delivery” — the last step in getting items to a shopper’s home.
Through this partnership, shoppers can place same-day delivery orders, sort of like Amazon, through Kroger’s existing ClickList online ordering platform.
Nuro’s sole purpose is to eliminate the human capital cost from the equation of the “last mile delivery,” which tends to be expensive. In other words, all those newly minted millennials trying to survive below the living wage, well, your time as a package delivery driver could be soon expiring.
The company applies robotics, artificial intelligence, and computer vision technology mounted on a golf-cart-like vehicle designed to transport goods — quickly, safely, and affordably. The fully-electric, unmanned four-wheeled vehicle has separated locking compartments for items. Shoppers will access these compartments via a smartphone app that will produce a code to unlock the compartments.
The oddly shaped vehicle, packed with cameras and sensors mounted on the roof, weighs roughly 1,500 pounds. Similar to a golf-cart, the battery pack and electric motors are mounted beneath the floor, which accounts for most of the weight. The company says the compartments are rated to carry a combined cargo weight of up to 243 pounds.
“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.”
In the last year, Kroger made a series of powerful moves to further its exposure to online and delivery services, as its digital sales for the past quarter exploded by 66 percent.
“We cannot just rely on physical stores to reach all of our customers for delivery and and pick-up,” said Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer, in an interview with CNBC.
With approximately 2,800 stores in 35 states, autonomous delivery vehicles for Kroger could become a serious disruptor to the thousands of millennials who have resorted to gig-economy delivery jobs.
Why should you care? Well, the partnership between Kroger and Nuro is a significant warning sign that the immediate impact of automation on society will have the potential to dramatically reshape the U.S. in the 2020s and beyond.
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As Karen Harris, Managing Director of Bain & Company’s Macro Trends Group would say, the imminent collision of automation “could trigger economic disruption far greater than we have experienced over the past 60 years.”