Autonomous vehicles are already with us, are at least they’re hard at work on construction sites and the like, as specialized companies increasingly rely on a mode of transportation that is increasingly in demand.
These vehicles will also be on our roads in the near-future, whether we’re wholly ready for them or not. While the worthwhile debate regarding the net benefits or harm the technology will bring rages on, another pilot project is underway in Scottsdale Arizona.
Large grocery chain Kroger has just launched, in partnership with autonomous-vehicle firm Nuro, a service that will provide home delivery of groceries via an unmanned autonomous vehicle..
Dubbed the R1, the vehicle being used has no steering wheel, nor even a seat to accommodate a human being. At the outset, it will be allowed to deliver goods within a 1.6-km radius of one Arizona grocery store. The R12 will also be restricted to secondary roads, and its speed limited to 25 mph (40.2 km/h).
Shoppers making use of the service place their order online, and then receive a message notifying them the order is on the way. A second alert is sent when the vehicle is near the delivery address; shoppers then come out to pick up their groceries from the vehicle. At that point a third message is sent with a code so that the vehicle’s storage area can be unlocked.
For safety reasons, during the pilot project a second vehicle, driven by a person, will follow the delivery vehicle in case there’s any need to intervene and stop the vehicle; this can be done remotely. Eventually, once the system has proven to be safe and reliable, the driverless vehicle will operate completely on its own.
Nuro has been offering this kind of delivery service with its vehicles since this past August, but until now there was always a person present in the delivery vehicle. Now, it’s time to take the training wheels off, so to speak.
As for Kroger, the grocery giant hopes to get a step ahead of Walmart and Amazon who are developing their own automated delivery services.
Is a service of this kind in the cards for Canada? While it’s certainly not inconceivable, it’s not very likely at this point, particularly given our more problematic climate. One of the most challenging obstacles for autonomous vehicles at present is the ability to maintain an accurate knowledge of their environs during extreme weather conditions.
And let’s agree our winters fit that description.