Driverless grocery delivery is a red-hot sector, and it’s no wonder — according to some analysts, the autonomous robot market could be worth close to $12 billion by 2024. In June, Nuro teamed up with grocery giant Kroger for self-driving grocery deliveries in the U.S., shortly after startup Robotmart announced plans to test its driverless grocery store on wheels. And today, another two companies joined the fray: Farmstead and Udelv.
Farmstead said that in the coming weeks, it’ll partner up with Carson, California-based Udelv to deliver foodstuff to Bay Area customers via the autonomous vehicle company’s modified GEM eL XD electric trucks. It’s been running a limited pilot since September.
“While many services have talked about making deliveries via autonomous vehicles, Farmstead is actually doing it,” said Farmstead CEO and cofounder Pradeep Elankumaran. “We envision a future where autonomous delivery is the norm in our space rather than the exception. This technology will help us be more efficient, enabling us to get fresh groceries into our customers’ homes even faster and cheaper than before.”
Here’s how it’ll work: Folks who opt to receive autonomous deliveries will receive an alert when the vehicle pulls up to their door. They’ll tap in a code they receive via SMS and retrieve their bags of groceries from a dedicated compartment.
Udelv’s trucks pack 8.7 horsepower motors and 20-kWh battery packs with an estimated range of 60 miles and a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, and can make about 40 deliveries before needing to recharge. The company said it collaborated with Motivo Engineering, a mechanical and electrical system design firm based in Carson, California, to spec out the cargo hold, which can fit 700 pounds of items in 18 cubbies of four sizes.
“Customers who have already experienced our autonomous vehicle delivery have been blown away – with Udelv’s help, we can’t wait to bring it to all our service areas,” Elankumaran said.
Farmstead’s secret sauce is artificial intelligence. The startup’s platform takes into account inventory and sales data to predict consumer habits, which it uses to place orders from producers, stock micro-hubs, and optimize dispatch courier dispatch times. That’s how it’s able to charge $5 or less for delivery in under 60 minutes, Elankumaran said, and to reduce perishable food waste to under 10 percent.
As for Udelv, it’s not its first grocery delivery rodeo. In September, the company announced partnerships in Oklahoma City with several chains, including Uptown Grocery, Buy For Less, Buy For Less Supermercado, and Smart Saver, to deliver food to customers in “underserved markets.”
Its vans are capable of Level 4 autonomous driving, and they’ve made more than 800 deliveries in the San Francisco Bay Area since January.
“[We] think grocery delivery is a perfect use case for Udelv’s self-driving vans — getting fresh and sometimes delicate items to customers quickly,” Udelv CEO Daniel Laury said.
Nuro and Udelv aren’t the only startups seeking to fulfill last-mile orders. San Francisco-based Dispatch is developing a short-range autonomous delivery robot designed to run on sidewalks, and AutoX is delivering goods from California-based companies like GrubMarket and DeMartini Orchard to customers in geofenced areas of San Jose. Meanwhile, Ford partnered with Postmates earlier this year to autonomously transport packages to customers in Miami, Florida.