BY ANINA OT PUBLISHED APR 19, 2022
Self-driving cars go beyond passenger service. These companies use self-driving tech to deliver goods to their customers quickly and efficiently.
Self-driving and autonomous vehicles have been all the rage those past few years. But it’s only recently that companies are starting to incorporate the technology into their business model.
Instead of passenger transportation, self-driving cars are starting to be used for safer, more efficient, and on-time delivery offerings.
Domino’s Driverless Delivery
Domino’s has been adamant about offering driverless pizza delivery for years now. Their first attempt in 2016 with Domino’s Australia didn’t go so well. The company tried again in 2017, but the results were far from autonomous, as the cars were still operated by Ford engineers remotely.
It wasn’t until 2019 that Domino’s came closer to its goal by working with Nuro, the company started by two former Google Engineers. Together, they were the first to receive approval from the US Department of Transportation.
While far from ideal, Domino’s now lets customers place prepaid orders on its website on specific days in Houston, Texas. A Nuro R2 self-driving robot car will then deliver the pizza order directly to the customer’s home.
It’s Not Just Domino’s
With COVID-19 putting more pressure on e-commerce businesses and restaurants, many companies are experimenting with self-driving cars to ensure they can handle all the orders they receive.
Walmart is another big name that’s adopting self-driving delivery vehicles. This time, it’s partnering with multiple tech companies. Similar to Domino’s, Walmart is working with Nuro to deliver groceries to customers in Houston.
In 2020, Walmart made its plans to partner with Udelv, Waymo, and Gatik for all-electric delivery vehicles in Scottsdale, AZ.
By December 2020, Walmart had also received the Arkansas State Highway Commission’s seal of approval, allowing it to operate without a safety driver onboard its delivery trucks.
Now, Walmart offers delivery service seven days per work, with self-driving vehicles following a set delivery route multiple times daily.
While Domino’s self-driving cars and Walmart’s delivery trucks result from collaborative work between multiple companies, Amazon is taking a different approach. In 2020, Amazon spent $1.2 billion to purchase Zoox, the self-driving vehicle startup.
Zoox already had self-driving cars in Last Vegas and San Francisco. It’s also planning on launching in Seattle in 2022 to further Amazon’s project of last-mile delivery.
In-house, Amazon designed its own vehicles. Amazon’s Scout vehicles are six-wheel, autonomous robots that worked during the COVID-19 lockdown, with further trials planned in multiple states.
3. CVS Pharmacy
Following suit with Domino’s and Walmart, CVS is also partnering with Nuro. It aims to offer prescription delivery to customers across the Houston market.
Having tested drone-deliver the year prior, CVS moved on to the self-driving delivery model, offering customer delivery free of charge in their service areas.
All customers have to do is place an online order through the CVS Pharmacy app or the official website and select the option for autonomous vehicle delivery. This service isn’t only for medications, as people can add non-prescription items to the same delivery.
4. Stop & Shop
The grocery stores chain, Stop & Shop, is taking a slightly different approach to grocery delivery. Partnering with Robomart, the San Francisco-based startup, Stop & Shop is offering miniature markets on the go.
Instead of packages, Stop & Shop’s self-driving cars carry fresh produce and meal kits. The vehicles are temperature-controlled to keep the produce fresh.
Customers call for the mini grocery store using an app. But unlike other grocery delivery services, customers don’t have to select and prepay for their shopping. Once the vehicle arrives, it opens its doors and tracks the items grabbed through computer vision and RFID.
Postmates is yet another food delivery service looking towards autonomous vehicles for delivery. The company partnered with the autonomous vehicle teleoperator, Phantom Auto, to create the Serve vehicles.
Serve robots stylistically resemble futuristic shopping carts rather than cars, but they’re capable of carrying 50 pounds of delivery goods at a time.
Postmates tested its cars in Los Angeles with plans to expand to San Francisco. While the cars are fully autonomous, they’re connected to remote pilots who can step up if the vehicle faces an issue while on the road.
AutoX is a startup developing self-driving delivery vehicles with headquarters in both California and Hong Kong. It started trials back in 2017, doing a similar job to Stop & Shop’s Serve vehicles, where its cars were modified to store chilled food in the back seat.
The creators aim to democratize autonomous driving and self-driving cars. That’s why AutoX is partnering with multiple businesses in its areas of operation, such as GrubMarket, that sources local organic produce for residents.
AutoX is also expanding towards self-driving taxis, similar to Waymo.
In 2019, Kroger partnered with Nuro to launch a grocery delivery service using self-driving vehicles.
Kroger has over 100 stores in the Houston area; introducing self-driving delivery cars won’t only help Kroger meet the demand for its services but also attract a new custom-base interested in trying out this new technology.
Customers will be able to order groceries through the Kroger mobile app or website for either same-day or next-day delivery, depending on time-slot availability. But unlike other delivery options on this list, Kroger charges a flat fee of $5.95 per delivery with no minimum amount set for orders.
With thousands of stores in 35 states and over 2,500 delivery locations, Kroger is looking to be more efficient. In 2021, Kroger was one of the leading investors in Nuro’s campaign, raising over $600 million.
The Future of Self Driving Delivery
Whether it’s Domino’s driverless delivery or Amazon investing in their own autonomous vehicles, self-driving vehicles are proving to be more than a novelty but an essential part of a company’s expanding markets.
As of now, many brands are rolling out their self-driving delivery services in select locations. They also tend to charge delivery fees to cover the costs of remote emergency pilots for the cars. But as technology evolves, you can expect self-driving cars to be soon available in numerous major cities worldwide.