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Largest U.S. Grocery Chain Begins Autonomous Delivery Service in Arizona

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【Summary】Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S. will start delivering groceries in autonomous driving Toyota Prius cars starting Thursday at a Fry’s Food Stores location it owns in Scottsdale.

Jacky Ho    Aug 16, 2018 3:56 PM PT
Largest U.S. Grocery Chain Begins Autonomous Delivery Service in Arizona

Residents of Scottsdale, Arizona will be able to place a grocery order online and have it delivered to their home in an autonomous driving vehicle beginning today.

Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S. will start delivering groceries in autonomous driving Toyota Prius cars starting Thursday at a Fry's Food Stores location it owns in Scottsdale.

Kroger announced a partnership with autonomous vehicle startup Nuro in June to test the delivery of groceries in unmanned road vehicles that can drive from the store to a customer's home.

"Kroger wants to bring more customers the convenience of affordable grocery delivery," said Kroger Chief Digital Officer Yael Cosset to Reuters, who added that the test will also gauge consumer demand for the service.

The first stage of the pilot program will have driver in the vehicle to make sure nothing goes wrong. However, beginning next month, the second phase of the pilot will include the use of Nuro's R1 unmanned delivery vehicles, according to a spokeswoman for the grocer.

"While we compete final certification and testing of the R1, the Prius will be delivering groceries and helping us improve the overall service," she said.

The Cincinnati-based grocer, which operates nearly 2,800 stores, has said unmanned delivery vehicles would help cut down on delivery times and the costs associated with delivering groceries directly to customers. Kroger has been investing in its digital capabilities as the industry braces for a shift toward online grocery shopping.

Major Grocers, such as Kroger, are looking to ways to compete with Amazon, ever since it purchased upscale grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.4 billion. Amazon customers can now shop for Whole Foods items online and have them delivered in just hours. Inside its Whole Foods locations, the e-commerce giant is exploring technology to eliminate checkout lines.

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The Nuro R1 delivery vehicle will eventually replace the Toyota Prius cars in the pilot program

Nuro was founded by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. Both have devoted their careers to robotics and machine learning. The two were principal engineers at Google's self-driving car project (now called Waymo). They founded Nuro in 2016 to harness the power of robotics and artificial intelligence to solve new challenges, including autonomous driving. The company is based in Mountain View, California.

Nuro is developing a fleet of compact, autonomous vehicles specifically designed with compartments to hold groceries, pizza or other products like dry-cleaning. The small transport vehicles are not designed to carry passengers and have a top speed of 25 mph. However, to test the grocery delivery service, Nuro has instead outfitted a small fleet of Toyota Priuses with its autonomous driving software and necessary hardware for the initial Kroger pilot program.

Arizona is an attractive state for companies to test self-driving technology. The state has looser rules about testing vehicles without human backup drivers present. Waymo has been testing its autonomous robotaxi service in Chandler and plans to launch it later this year using a fleet of driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Uber was also testing an autonomous service of its ride-hailing service until March, when one of its self-driving Volvo XC90 SUVs fatally struck a pedestrian. The incident led to Uber shutting down its entire Arizona self-driving test program.

Self-driving car delivery from the Fry's store will cost $5.95 with no order minimum. It is only available to addresses within the store's zip code.

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