Autonomous Car Startup Nuro Partners with Kroger for Grocery Delivery Service

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【Summary】America’s largest supermarket chain is teaming up with a driverless startup that’s founded by two Google veterans to launch a fully self-driving grocery service.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Aug 12, 2018 8:30 AM PT
Autonomous Car Startup Nuro Partners with Kroger for Grocery Delivery Service

While automakers and technology companies are working on ways to get self-driving cars into consumers' hands, some have gone down a different path by developing autonomous delivery services. For small startups and enormous companies, it's a way of testing their technology in a way that's beneficial to everyone. 

Last month, Ford teamed with Postmates to bring an autonomous delivery service to residents in Florida. The American automaker's program is all about testing how customers react and interact with the self-driving Ford Connect vans. While the vans look like they're driving on their own, a human driver is behind the wheel of the vans. 

Ford isn't the only automaker looking into autonomous delivery vehicles. Mercedes-Benz and Matternet unveiled interesting concepts back in 2016 that were equipped with delivery drones. Self-driving delivery vehicles are expected to revolutionize the way we receive packages, but that also extends to groceries. 

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Kroger And Nuro Want To Bring Groceries To Your Door

The United States' largest supermarket chain, Kroger, has teamed with Nuro, a self-driving startup that's headed by two Google veterans, to bring a fully autonomous grocery delivery service to the market. It's not enough for autonomous vehicles to bring you packages, as these two are looking to make traveling to the grocery store a thing of the past. 

Kroger's decision to go with Nuro for its self-driving needs is a smart one, as the brand has become one of the more notable names in the autonomous scene. Earlier this May, the company chose Arizona as its testing ground's for its self-driving machines. The cars are oddly shaped, funky-looking vehicles that are made with only deliveries in mind. The vehicles are highly customizable and are built from the get-go with no room for passengers on the inside.

In June, Nuro stated that that it had plans to start a driverless goods delivering service by the end of the year. The plan included the launch of its first-ever self-driving electric powered machine called the R1. Nuro is clearly on a good path and Kroger chose wisely. 

The partnership wants to have a pilot program in an unnamed city later this fall. The pilot will see Nuro, with its highly-customizable vehicles, develop a fleet of machines with human safety drivers piloting the machines to make deliveries for Kroger's grocery stores. Customers that wish to have their groceries delivered to them can track their package through Nuro's app or Kroger's existing online delivery platform. 

Throughout the pilot program, Nuro will be keeping a close eye on how accurate estimated delivery times are. The company will also look into how customers react to the autonomous vehicles and how regularly they react with them. 

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The Pilot Program Is A Realistic Look Into The Future

"We are incredibly excited about the potential of our innovative partnership with Nuro to bring the future of grocery delivery to customers today," said Yael Cosset, Kroger's chief digital officer. "As part of Restock Kroger, we have already started to redefine the grocery customer experience and expand the coverage area for our anything, anytime and anywhere offering. Partnering with Nuro, a leading technology company, will create customer value by providing Americans access to fast and convenient delivery at a fair price." 

While Korger and Nuro are more than happy to bring your groceries to you autonomously, don't think that they'll help you unload them. Dave Ferguson, co-founder of Nuro, told The Verge that the companies want the pilot program to accurately portray the autonomous service when it comes out. 

"Obviously we don't want to come across as rude," said Ferguson. "We're trying to strike the right balance so we can give you a sense of what the service will be like when there are no people. Not to seem like there's an able-bodied person not helping you with your groceries." 

The specifics behind the deal still need to be worked out, but the partnership is a good one for both sides. It will allow Nuro to get data on cities across the country and help make its name more commonplace. Kroger is a massive company with 2,800 stores in 35 states. The brand serves approximately 9 million customers everyday. According to Cosset, approximately 75 percent of those customers have access to or use Korger's delivery services to get their groceries. There's clearly a market for deliveries, then, and adding an autonomous part of the equation makes sense. 

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Why Go With Nuro?

According to The Verge, Kroger looked into numerous autonomous companies before deciding to go with Nuro. The supermarket company eventually settled on the startup because of its history developing innovative technology. "We wanted a team that could demonstrate an ability to innovate reliable technology," Cosset told the outlet. "Quite candidly, no one has really cracked the code yet." 

Nuro may not have cracked the code yet, but it has two employees that have been working towards autonomy for a long time. Al Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu are two major candidates in the self-driving field. Ferguson was a leading software engineer for Google, while Zhu was one of the founding engineers for the tech company. With two engineers at the head of the company, you can bet that Nuro will continue to work on its self-driving vehicles and try to perfect them. 

The driverless company is currently using its fleet of six autonomous vehicles to collect data and find the most efficient route in an area. The information is then fed into its latest R1 prototypes. At the moment, Nuro is testing Toyota Prius hybrids and Nissan Leaf electric vehicles with the brand's autonomous technology tacked on. The company still needs to get sign off from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before it can go live in states where regulation has already been put in place to ban fully-autonomous cars. Instead of working to get the proper permits, Cosset claims that the company will avoid those areas completely. 

Individuals, as The Verge points out, are purchasing more and more items online. And with companies like Amazon being able to get packages to Prime members in just two days, consumers are looking to get packages even quicker. Having autonomous vehicles deliver goods would expedite the process and make shipping easier and more convenient. 

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