Ocado kicks off London trial of driverless delivery trucks


Ocado has begun trialling driverless trucks in south east London, with a view to a wider rollout.

The online retailer is using autonomous vehicles to make free deliveries to as many as 160 Greenwich customers for the next two weeks.

Under the government-backed trial, drivers will be present in the vehicles to comply with UK laws. But vehicle manufacturer Oxbotica believes the vans will be ready to operate without supervision by 2021, provided legislation has caught up.

Ocado said it would be keen to use the technology for deliveries in future and eventually wants to incorporate the self-driving vans into its offering for third-party retailers, the Ocado Smart Platform.

The driverless CargoPod vans work by using cameras, sensor and laser technology to map out their environment and detect any hazards. The vehicle can carry a total maximum weight of 128kg and has eight pods for individual orders.

Once the vehicles arrive at their destination, the pod containing the customer order will light up and be available to open. In the trial stage, customers need only press a button to access the pod but the vehicle could eventually require mobile verification to ensure security.

Paul Clarke, chief technology officer at Ocado, stressed that the company would always use drivers to make large deliveries. "It's all about choice and adding another capability to our last mile. For deliveries of 50 items that customers want brought to their kitchen tables, using these vehicles would be hugely challenging," he said.

"But if you're just getting back from your shift and want your groceries in a short lead time, and don't mind going to the kerb to pick it up, this could be for you."

Clarke said the technology could help Ocado follow in the footsteps of Tesco and Sainsbury's and make express one-hour deliveries, But he stressed rapid turnaround was possible without the technology. "What's important is we now have technology in our Andover warehouse that is very much aimed at immediacy. We can pick 50 items in just a few minutes. So yes, combining that with driverless vehicles could be a step forward towards that [one-hour delivery] but we could do it with our existing normal delivery method."

As yet, there is no indication of how much a driverless vehicle would cost as it will depend on whether UK laws change to allow them on the roads without supervision, and how popular they become. But Clarke said he was hopeful the government would work on legislation soon. "The government is massively supportive of this technology and wants the UK to be a leader in terms of experimentation and trialing autonomous vehicles," he said.

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Ocado kicks off London trial of driverless delivery trucks
Modified on Wednesday 28th June 2017
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