The driverless naysayers are looking sillier and sillier as Kroger Begins Tests of Driverless Grocery Delivery in Arizona.
>U.S. supermarket operator Kroger Co said it will start testing driverless grocery delivery on Thursday with technology partner Nuro at a single Fry’s Food Store in Scottsdale, Arizona.
>Kroger and rival Walmart Inc each have teamed up with autonomous vehicle companies in a bid to lower the high-cost of “last-mile” deliveries to customer doorsteps, as online retailer Amazon.com rolls out free Whole Foods delivery for subscribers to its Prime perks program.
>The first phase of the test will use a fleet of Toyota Prius cars equipped with Nuro technology. Those cars have seats for humans who can override autonomous systems in the event of an error or emergency. Nuro’s R1 driverless delivery van, which has no seats, will begin testing this autumn, the companies said.
No Seats, No Steering Wheel, No Brake Pedals
>A new startup that proposes a different spin on autonomous transportation came out of stealth today. The company, called Nuro, was founded by two former lead Google engineers who worked on the famed self-driving car project. Unlike the plethora of self-driving startups out there, Nuro isn’t focused on reconfiguring robot taxis or autonomous trucks, but on designing a new type of vehicle altogether.
>Nuro is focused on deliveries, specifically the kind that are low-speed, local, and last-mile: groceries, laundry, or your take-out order from Seamless. The startup thinks that automating these services could help shoulder the sharp increase in last-mile deliveries, while also reducing traffic accidents and boosting local businesses who are looking for ways to thrive and compete in the age of Amazon.
>A peek through the windshield will also reveal the complete absence of traditional controls like steering wheels, foot pedals, and gear shifts. There’s no driver seat because humans were not meant to operate this vehicle.
>While it works out the kinks in its drone delivery project, Amazon is also considering using self-driving robots, having just filed a patent for an autonomous ground vehicle. Toyota unveiled its bizarre “e-palette” concept at CES this year. Meanwhile, Starship Technologieshas sidewalk-only delivery robots making trips in California, Washington, DC, Germany, and the UK. Last year, Ford Motor Company teamed up with Domino’s to deliver pizza via a self-driving car. And later today, a Northern Californian startup called Udelv is demonstratingwhat it calls “the world’s first public-road autonomous delivery test,” in which a self-driving van (with human safety driver) will deliver goods from the high-end Draeger’s Market chain in the Bay Area city of San Mateo.
>There are some challenges to Nuro’s business model, specifically how customers will receive their deliveries from the self-driving delivery pod. No driver means no one to ring your doorbell or trudge up four flights of stairs to hand over your pad thai. Ferguson says he envisions customers using — what else? — an app to inform them when the vehicle has arrived in front of their building or in their driveway. They would then be given a code that pops open the vehicle’s side hatches so they can retrieve their items. They are also considering using facial recognition technology. But what’s to prevent people from stealing someone else’s deliveries? There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out, Ferguson acknowledged.
GM Targets 2019
>General Motors says it is ready to mass-produce a self-driving car that has no steering wheel, pedals or any other manual controls.
>The car company said Friday that it has filed a petition with the Department of Transportation for the fourth-generation Cruise AV to hit the streets in 2019.
>GM maintains that the car "will comply with federal safety laws;" the petition is asking for a waiver for laws that it cannot meet "because they are human-driver-based-requirements."
>For example: "A car without a steering wheel can't have a steering wheel airbag," as GM President Dan Ammann told The Verge.
>Some critics, such as Jalopnik's Jason Torchinsky, have suggested GM should have been more experimental: "There's just no reason to keep these rigid interior design rules when you're not required (or able) to drive! ... There should at least be an option to swivel the front seats around, or allow the seats to all face inwardly."
>It'll be possible for humans to stop the car – GM says customers having an emergency "may end the ride by making a stop request, and the vehicle will pull to the side of the road at the next available safe place."
>The cars are undergoing testing on the roads of San Francisco and the Phoenix suburbs. GM says San Francisco provides rigorous challenges to the vehicles – for example, in the Northern California city it faces more than 7 times more emergency vehicles than in Phoenix.
Driverless is clearly happening.
While I consider grocery delivery a niche, the important point is another player besides Waymo has cars that are street-ready without humans, unlike Uber.
Ford joins that group in 2019.
Again, the most logical place for driverless vehicles to take hold quickly are airport taxi shuttles and long haul truck driving on interstates. The latter will take off quickly once the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) grants approval and USDOT is committed to the project with a Comprehensive Management Plan for Automated Vehicle Initiatives.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock