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Ocado Technology and the GATEway Project organise UK’s first driverless grocery delivery

Ocado Technology and the GATEway Project organise UK’s first driverless grocery delivery

Ocado Technology has concluded a very successful driverless grocery delivery trial in partnership with the GATEway Project, an £8 million research project led by TRL in collaboration with Oxbotica (the spin-out company from the Oxford Robotics Institute), Digital Greenwich, Telefonica and others.

Over the past two weeks, the electric self-driving van, called CargoPod, has been hitting the streets of the Royal Arsenal area in Greenwich to deliver free groceries to local residents. The van itself is the first Oxbotica self-driving electric vehicle capable of transporting cargo by using the company’s state-of-the-art Caesium cloud-based fleet management software and their Selenium autonomous control system.

Representing Ocado Technology in this trial was our 10x department. 10x focuses on creating game changing improvements that have the potential to revolutionize our business based on the ten times vs. ten percent principle. This involves identifying and addressing the big technical challenges facing our business, the online grocery market and beyond. This lofty goal demands that the 10x teams stay at the cutting edge of technology, looking far into the future, and turning ambitious dreams into practical solutions.

When the 10x team was approached by Oxbotica co-founder Prof. Paul Newman to trial their latest self-driving technology as part of the GATEway Project, we were very keen to get involved.

“We are always looking to come up with unique, innovative solutions to the real-world challenge of delivering groceries in densely populated urban environments. This project is just part of that ongoing journey to be at the edge of what is practical.” – David Sharp, Head of Ocado Technology 10x.

The trial gave Ocado Technology the ability to experiment with fresh ideas for the last mile of online retail – the stage that starts when the goods leave the facility for delivery and ends when they are placed securely in the hands of customers.

We were also able to learn more about the next steps needed before driverless deliveries could become an efficient proposition for our Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) partners.

The CargoPod van

The focus of the trial is both on the commercial opportunities of self-driving technology and how it functions alongside people in a residential environment. The event was a great success with the autonomous van zipping from place to place to everyone’s delight. The location for the trial provided a dense, real-world urban environment. A working service of self-driving vans is still a few years off, but the emerging technologies are developing rapidly.

An Ocado team member shows customers what to do

CargoPod is equipped with eight cargo compartments. The corresponding customer compartment lights up when CargoPod arrives at a particular customer’s stop. The customer is then able to press a central button, which unlocks the compartment, and open the door and retrieve their groceries.  

CargoPod van from the side

 

The van can cover a distance of 30 kilometers on a single charge, at speeds of up to 40km/h. However on this particular site, we were restricted to 8km/h as it is on a private road. CargoPod, like all of Oxbotica’s vehicles, runs Selenium, Oxbotica’s autonomous operating system. Using data from lasers and cameras placed around the vehicle, Selenium allows the vehicle to know where it is, what’s around it, and where to go next.

Map of trial location

The vehicle determines its location using cameras, while lasers are used for obstacle detection and perception. Oxbotica’s software not only learns from its own environment and actions, but is also able to share experiences across vehicles, meaning that its performance is always improving over time.

We talked to Oxbotica and TRL to hear more about this latest endeavour in more detail:

“Last mile delivery is a growing challenge as our cities become denser and more congested.  In this new project we are working closely with Ocado Technology to deploy our Selenium autonomy system into a novel last-mile delivery application in Greenwich as a part of the GATEway project.  This is truly a UK success story about CCAV and Innovate UK enabling a young British company to become established and to be able to demonstrate mature world-class technology capabilities within a real-life dense urban environment.” Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica

“The GATEway project is unique in that it considers the effect of automated vehicles on the movement of goods as well as the movement of people. This trial with Ocado Technology provides an ideal platform to help us understand how and where these vehicles could best operate and whether people would accept, trust and like them as an automated delivery service in the city. We envisage that cities could benefit massively if deliveries could be made by quiet, zero emission, automated vehicles when congestion is minimal.” Simon Tong, Principal Research Scientist (TRL) and technical lead for the GATEway project.

Our vision

We are interested in the potential of adding autonomous deliveries as an option to our ever-expanding  OSP last mile portfolio. Obviously there are several external factors to consider before self-driving vans become a reality, but as OSP already includes high-performance automated warehouse systems alongside other cutting edge retail solutions, it seemed fitting to also explore self-driving technologies as a possibility.

There is also the potential for this self-driving technology to be used within our OSP Customer Fulfilment Centers, transporting goods from inbound to storage and from pick stations to outbound.

Working with the respected team of specialists from the GATEway Project has been an exciting (autonomous) ride. We are very proud of the results we’ve achieved over the two week trial and we recommend that anyone interested in self-driving technology follow the Project’s future endeavours closely.

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