Starting in the fall, select Kroger shoppers will be able to schedule autonomous grocery orders from Kroger’s web-based delivery platform or Nuro’s forthcoming smartphone app. Once an order is placed, store employees will load the groceries into one of the temperature-controlled compartments in Nuro’s self-driving cars and dispatch the vehicle, with customers able to track it in the app. After the car arrives, they’ll walk up to it, verify their identity with a password or form of biometric authentication, and retrieve their groceries.
“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,” Nuro cofounder Dave Ferguson said in a statement. “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.”
Autonomous delivery won’t come to all Kroger customers right away — in states where unsupervised self-driving cars haven’t been legalized, the startup will need to gain the approval of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer, told the Verge that the company will likely avoid launching the service in those states and cities altogether.
But that still leaves quite a few locations on the table. Kroger is the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., with more than 2,800 stores in 35 states that serve around 9 million customers a day. It already offers same-day delivery to 75 percent of its customers, and the idea is to deploy Nuro’s cars in regions of the country that don’t yet have that service.
When Nuro emerged from stealth in January of this year, it unveiled the R1, a thin, short, driverless delivery vehicle with a slew of cameras and laser sensors. The company has also been testing a fleet of Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf cars equipped with a proprietary mix of hardware and software.
Nuro’s business model is fulfilling last-mile orders in every sector imaginable. It isn’t the only one. San Francisco-based Dispatch is developing a short-range autonomous delivery robot designed to run on sidewalks, and earlier this year Ford partnered with Postmates to deliver packages to customers in Miami, Florida.