Driverless Grocery Delivery Pilot Launches in Arizona

But it's only available through one store.

Startup Nuro and supermarket chain Kroger have launched their driverless grocery-delivery pilot program, which was announced in June. The two companies are starting small, running the pilot program through a single store in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Customers of Fry’s Food Store can place orders through the store’s website or an app. Same-day and next-day deliveries can be scheduled, and customers must pay a $5.95 delivery fee for their orders.

Nuro is developing an autonomous delivery vehicle (pictured above) that doesn’t even have a driver’s seat but, like most autonomous-driving startups, it’s relying on modified production cars for testing. Deliveries will be made using a fleet of Nissan Leaf and Toyota Prius test mules augmented with autonomous-driving hardware. Human safety drivers will be onboard as a backup.

The selection of Scottsdale is not surprising. Arizona is a hotbed of autonomous-car testing, primarily because the state has worked to entice companies by maintaining looser regulations than neighboring California.

It will be interesting to see how customers react to a delivery service that uses driverless vehicles. The human safety drivers onboard Nuro’s test vehicles are only present in case something goes wrong; they won’t interact with customers. That means there won’t be anyone to bring groceries directly to a person’s door. Will people care if the delivery vehicle is autonomous if that means walking to the curb to get their food?

Whether they inconvenience consumers or not, delivery services make sense as a testbed for autonomous driving. They could allow self-driving cars to rack up mileage without companies having to convince people to ride in them. A fleet operation like a delivery service (or the ride-hailing services planned by the likes of Waymo) also allows companies to maintain more control over how vehicles are used than if cars were sold to individual buyers.