The UK government claim that Britain is leading the world in driverless car technology and a few weeks ago we wrote about the driverless car trials being carried out between Oxford and London. Now, it seems Ocado have latched onto this new technology and are trialling a prototype driverless van to deliver goods, but only at short distances.
Ocado is a retailer which has always aimed at automation of the maximum number of processes as possible within their business. They previously used robots to assemble delivery orders in warehouses and are working on a humanoid maintenance engineer named Second Hands.
The small vehicle used in the trials looks like a tuk-tuk and has been looping a two-mile semi-pedestrianised area of Greenwich for two weeks. The electric CargoPod can travel 18 miles on a single battery charge and reach a top speed of 25mph. It can carry up to eight crates so is not big enough to deliver a large order.
This type and size of vehicle has been specifically chosen to suit an environment where bigger vehicles are not allowed and has been developed by robotics company Oxbotica. The CargoPod was part of a broader research project into driverless vehicles in which £8m was invested.
During the tests, two people were inside the vehicle and the speed was capped at 5mph. It was fitted with three Lidar (laser) sensors and a stereo camera. The vehicle would come to a stop and one of the numbered crate doors where the customer’s goods were stored lit up. The recipient then presses a button to open the door.
Some may ask if this is a natural progression in the use of technology or a sign that human resources are less valued. Ocado have denied that their employees are unimportant and made a statement claiming that their staff are precious to them, but they still wish to embrace the technology and learn to adapt to changes.
This is being touted as another choice consumers are being offered. Delivery from an actual person is still possible, as is click and collect but for those who are happy to interact with a driverless vehicle, this is another option. Whether it will transpire to be economical remains to be seen. However, Ocado have confirmed they have no immediate plans to follow Amazon’s lead and introduce a drone service.
How would you feel about a driverless shopping delivery?