Driverless van to deliver your food shop?

Ocado trials driverless delivery van in London to delivery customers food shop but how practical is it?


Ocado has now unveiled its prototype of a driverless van which is designed to deliver goods at short distances.

For two weeks, the vehicle a mixture between a large tuk-tuk and small milk float was completing autonomous loops of a two-mile semi-pedestrianised area of Greenwich, South- East London. This one trial was part of a broader £8m research project into driverless technology.The electric CargoPod can reach maximum speeds of 25mph and can do 18 miles on a single battery charge.

The vehicle is not designed for a big family shop with creators saying its aimed for smaller orders. The vehicle has the capacity to only carry 8 crates.

Graeme Smith, the chief executive of robotics company Oxbotica, which developed the vehicle says “We have chosen it to work specifically in this type of environment, where bigger vehicles are not allowed.“We’re very much at the start of innovation. Over the next two years, you should expect to see a lot more vehicles on the road from car to shuttle companies.”

For safety purposes of the test, the van’s speed was capped at 5mph and two people were required to be inside the vehicle.The vehicle is fitted with three Lidar (laser) sensors and a stereo camera in addition to standard sensors used in modern vehicles.

To complete a delivery, when it came to a stop one of the 8 numbered door lights up to indicate to the customer which compartment their goods were stored in. The door would then open when the recipient pressed button.

Simon Tong, principal research scientist at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) says that “The low speed, the lack of traffic, the safety drivers are all part of the test process we need to go through to make sure that driverless tech is really safe to use in public.”

Online retailer Ocado has always sought to automate as many processes as possible within its business. With the company previously implementing robotics into their business assembling delivery orders in its warehouse. They are also currently in the process of developing a humanoid maintenance engineer called Second Hands.

Driverless delivery was going to be a natural stage in the progression of our transport technologies.

However, the company emphasises the importance of their 12,000 human employees. Within the delivery process there are two human touch points to our service- one is on the doorstep and the other is in our call centres, and they are both very precious to us.

We see this as being about choice and preference, giving customers the freedom to select what’s best for them. With some customers wanting their full order brought to their kitchen table, other opting for click and collect whereas some customers may be happy to receive their delivery from the driverless delivery truck.

Aidan Bocci, chief executive of Commercial Advantage, a customer goods consultancy says such services are “absolutely the future…with more and more people living in big cities and this satisfies a massive craving for convenience. There will be demand, but the question is whether economically you can make it work.”

Other companies are also introducing similar concepts of developing different methods of delivery. With companies such as Amazon developing a drone delivery service.

With Mr Clarke saying “Drone technology is very interesting to us, and we use it quite a lot in our business for surveying and looking around large premises. But I do think 35kg of groceries are going to be flying over your head anytime soon. No, I don’t.”

What’s your thoughts on this suggested new way of receiving groceries? Does this sound right up your street having minimal human interaction and getting the job done quick or would you miss your chats with the driver too much. Either way change is coming in the way we do our food shop.

By Lucy Murdoch

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