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October 15, 2021
Online delivery service Ocado has invested $14 million to fund a 12-month autonomous vehicle (AV) test on some of its urban routes.
As part of the trial, select Ocado delivery vehicles are anticipated to receive self-driving hardware and software kits from Wayve, which expects to gain data insights from the study.
All vehicles included in the Wayve-Ocado trial are expected to use at least one human driver as legislation in the U.K., where the trial will be held, doesn’t currently permit wholly autonomous vehicles testing.
The pilot study will involve a range of last-mile delivery environments, such as avoiding pedestrians and navigating narrow or congested streets.
Cameras underpin Wayve’s core technology along with machine learning algorithms trained to analyze each road scenario. The company says this is less expensive than lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), which uses light pulses to collect three-dimensional data.
AV Joins the Wayve
Wayve has been working alongside Ocado for several months and also has joined forces with the supermarket chain Asda for an AV trial in London next year.
The latest funding round brought its overall capital to around $62 million.
Numerous AV trials are underway for last-mile goods delivery with major retailers and couriers.
For example, FedEx commenced an expansion of its driverless logistics pilot with an AV-operated goods route between Dallas, Texas, and Houston last month.
The courier has been hit by a global driver shortage, and is also preparing to test AV on last-mile deliveries using vehicles from robotics and AI supplier Nuro.
Also collaborating with Nuro are Walmart and Kroger, the top two groceries chains in the U.S., which have been steadily growing their driverless delivery pilots in recent years.
Ocado is pitched as an online-only supermarket and operates highly automated distribution warehouses to push out customer orders.
It has licensed its technology and software to supermarket chain Morrisons, and sources products for its own e-commerce platform from Marks & Spencer, a groceries, lifestyle and fashion chain.
The partnership, through which M&S purchased a 50% equity share in Ocado’s retail arm, replaced an earlier pact with M&S’s rival, Waitrose, that started with the original dotcom boom in 2000.
Building on its reputation as a technology-first retailer, Ocado has licensed its robotic warehouse picking platform to Kroger. and may view AVs as a further opportunity to win business stateside.
Autonomy is Measured in Returns
Some retailers are also implementing robotics behind the scenes in the supply chain, but the results don’t always pay off as planned, as when Walmart pulled its contract with Bossa Nova Robotics last year.
Grocer interest is driving investor interest and higher dollar amounts for investment rounds in AV startups.
For example, Walmart recently backed a $2.8 billion round for General Motors’ self-driving unit, Cruise.
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