Kroger, Nuro Teaming Up To Bring Driverless Cars To Grocery Delivery

Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, is teaming up with Nuro to launch a fully driverless delivery service, the two companies announced Thursday.

The partnership comes as the largest U.S. grocery players continue to tackle the expensive challenge of “last mile delivery” — the final step in getting a product to a shopper’s home. It is a problem that is particularly difficult when dealing with fragile products like fresh food. It is further complicated by populations that vary wildly across the U.S., with some far less dense that others.

They will eventually use Nuro’s purpose-built delivery vehicles, which have plenty of room for fruits and veggies, but no driver’s seat.

However, when the service launches this fall, it will use vehicles with human backup drivers onboard. Customers can track the vehicles and unlock them to get their groceries using a Nuro app or Kroger’s existing online delivery portal. But customer’s shouldn’t expect the vehicles’ human occupants to help them with their groceries.

“Unmanned delivery will be a game-changer for local commerce, and together with Kroger, we’re thrilled to test this new delivery experience to bring grocery customers new levels of convenience and value,” said Dave Ferguson, co-founder of Nuro, in a statement. “Our safe, reliable, and affordable service, combined with Kroger’s ubiquitous brand, is a powerful first step in our mission to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life.”

Kroger operates 2,800 supermarkets in 35 states, with a claimed nine million customers per day. However, it’s unclear where the driverless delivery service will operate. Only Arizona and California have explicitly legalized the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads without human drivers onboard. Nuro will also need to map streets and plan routes in an area using a fleet of six conventional cars modified with autonomous-driving systems before it can start service.