Customers who frequent ASDA’s Park Royal superstore in London west of Portobello Road Market now have another option to do their weekly shops instead of fighting the crowds.
In a trial just launched by the retailer, shoppers can have their groceries delivered by self-driving vehicles. Over the next year, ASDA says it will serve approximately 72,000 households in the unique service which will be fueled by start-up company Wayve.
The two have been working together on different projects for the past two years but this trial, said to be the largest such experiment by a grocery chain in the UK, could set the groundwork for a new wave of home deliveries.
“Asda has long understood the value of bringing tech innovation to the online grocery sector and we are always looking at new and innovative partnerships to improve delivery options for customers,’’ Simon Gregg, Senior Vice President of eCommerce at Asda, said. “We believe autonomous technology is an exciting opportunity to shape the future of delivery, not only at our Park Royal store but throughout our nationwide operation.”
Gregg says the technology not only will help solve operational dilemmas in stores but also help mitigate logistics issues for workers and for those who don’t have the time or patience to navigate to physical stores. ASDA will continue to have regular, driver-led options, but the driverless ones are likely to catch the eyes of customers.
“The trial is a demonstration of how autonomy can meet fleet owner needs,” says Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve. “We started developing our AV technology over five years ago: it’s incredible to see it delivering real value today as part of Asda’s daily operations. Trials like this one accelerate our road to deployment. They provide the learnings required to bring the benefits of AV technology to customers sooner while ensuring that businesses, like Asda, are prepared to deploy AVs at scale.”
ASDA’s online ordering service is for next-day delivery. All of items items available online can be delivered to homes. Up to now, the orders were handled with someone behind the wheel. Now, customers will be chosen at random to have their bags delivered by autonomous vehicles. Even without the driver, there will be an ASDA employee and a Wayve supervisor in all vehicle during the trial. The store colleague will unload the groceries once at the home.
Asda notes that “this is the first trial in the UK that can launch directly into commercial operations, without diverging from the operation of the store’s online delivery processes.” Wayve’s AV2.0 uses machine learning and AI that can recognize and adapt to different environments.
“This results in AV technology that is not geo-fenced by highly detailed maps or pre-defined routes and can autonomously drive anywhere in its urban domain even to places it’s never been to before,” ASDA and Wayve said in a statement. “The system is designed to constantly monitor the road, identifying potential hazards and making the safest decisions possible.”
Even though the pandemic has waned, customers have continued to use online ordering. ASDA says it serves up some 800,000 per week.