Online supermarket Ocado in the closing stages of a two week grocery delivery trial, where customers in residential areas of Greenwich, London, get their shopping delivered by a self-driving electric van called the CargoPod. Developed by Oxbotica for the experiment, the vehicle uses sensors and software to make its way to more than a hundred customers taking part in the trial without the need for GPS.
The real-world trial, which ends on Friday, is the result of a collaboration between the GATEway project (a research initiative looking at zero emission last mile delivery and mobility solutions), Ocado Technology and Oxbotica.
The vehicle build project began last December and the bodywork was completed in April this year. The base of the electric CargoPod is a modified Garia Utility City vehicle, upgraded to include cameras and lasers feeding data into a computer running Oxbotica's Selenium autonomous operating system, allowing it to navigate on its own.
The fully road legal prototype vehicle doesn't rely on GPS to get around, but cameras that help determine where it is and lasers for obstacle avoidance. It can transport up to 128 kg (280 lb) of groceries per trip and get up to a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h), though it was limited to 5 mph during the trial due to local speed restrictions. Also for legal and safety reasons, a trained safety driver in the front will take control should the vehicle get into trouble.
The CargoPod's batteries are sufficient to keep it rolling all day, and a full recharge takes 3 hours, but 40 percent capacity can be reached in 1.5 hours if needed.
Ocado created a separate website for trial customers to order their CargoPod-delivered goods, with details sent on to Oxbotica's cloud-based fleet management system to schedule autonomous delivery. When the goods arrive at a customer's door, a button on the side of the vehicle is pushed to open the appropriate locker.
"The vehicle locks itself automatically after a delivery has been made and remains locked until the next delivery," Ocado's Alex Voica told us. "The customer or the customer service representative can unlock the vehicle remotely or manually, depending on their preference."
Can the wider Ocado customer base expect to have their groceries delivered by a self-driving electric van any time soon? Ocado says not, the trial is just that – an experiment. The company is using the project to look into "the logistics and practicalities of deploying self-driving vehicles as part of the last mile offering for the Ocado Smart Platform, an end-to-end solution for providing bricks and mortar grocery retailers around the world with a shortcut for moving online."
You can see the a cabin view of the delivery Pod in action in the first video below. The second video offers an outside view, and shows customers retrieving their groceries from a locker.
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