Online grocery retailer Ocado has partnered with software company Oxbotica to develop self-driving vehicles for itself and others who use its platform, as the company forges ahead with autonomous driving technology. As part of the push, automatic forklift trucks at warehouses and self-driving delivery vans could be manufactured for use by Ocado.
Ocado has also purchased a £10 million stake in Oxbotica. Alex Harvey, Ocado’s Chief of Advanced Technology, stated that the company envisions ‘the entire end to end operation, ultimately, to be autonomous - from the receipt of stock to the warehouse all the way through to the customer's door’. He went on to describe the company’s vision of future transactions for customers:
‘From a customer's perspective you open your door and outside you will see an autonomous van or another autonomous vehicle pull up outside your house, and most likely an autonomous robot will get out of that autonomous vehicle, will collect your groceries, and hand them to you at the doorstep’.
Despite Ocado’s lofty ambitions, it has admitted that getting permission from regulators to allow autonomous vehicles on public roads to facilitate deliveries will most likely take some time. The company did note that deliveries to customers’ homes constitute a large part of an online retailer’s costs, though autonomous vans could prove to be a money-saving solution long-term. In the more immediate future, it sees such autonomous vehicles operating in limited areas such as its own warehouses, with prototypes slated to come within two years.
Ocado has aimed to present itself as more than just an online grocery retailer in recent years, instead positioning itself as a technology platform for other global retailers to make use of. It has developed robots to pick and pack groceries at its fulfilment centres and American supermarket Kroger has recently opened a warehouse that operates using Ocado’s technology.