Are remote controlled robots ready to deliver for grocers and drugstores?
Automated grocery delivery is a retail technology that suddenly found itself with a more robust use case as the novel coronavirus pandemic made customers prioritize contact-free transactions in the interest of staying healthy.
Albertsons, for example, is working on a sidewalk-ready robot that will bring deliveries to Safeway customers. The way it works, however, differs from some of the other solutions being tested in the space.
Rain or shine, Tortoise delivers pic.twitter.com/kkuLDzHCmP
— Tortoise (@TortoiseHQ) March 30, 2021
Albertsons is testing the automated grocery cart, made in conjunction with logistics company Tortoise, in Northern California, according to Supermarket News. Humans will accompany the cart to ensure it stays on course during the pilot. The device is controlled remotely by a live operator rather than relying on artificial intelligence to get from point A to point B.
Much of the focus in the driverless delivery space, both as regards full-sized vehicles built for the road and smaller robots built for sidewalks, has been on the use of fully autonomous vehicles rather than remotely controlled ones.
Kroger, Walmart and CVS have, for instance, piloted autonomous grocery and prescription delivery in partnership with startup Nuro, using completely autonomous Prius cars fitted with the tech provider’s self-driving technology.
Other enterprises like Amazon.com and FedEx have been experimenting with smaller last-mile fulfillment robots for sidewalks. Both Amazon’s Scout and FedEx’s SameDay Bot use a combination of cameras and AI/machine learning to travel and deliver without human intervention or oversight.
Retailers and startups have occasionally run into legislative hurdles in their attempts to bring driverless delivery beyond the pilot stage. For smaller robots, municipalities have shown concern about the vehicles being nuisances or dangers to pedestrians.
Regulations have been managed on a state-by-state and city-by-city basis. Recently Pennsylvania went as far as to declare delivery robots as “pedestrians,” reports Yahoo News. The move brought the state into conflict with the city of Pittsburgh and has come under criticism from accessibility advocates and transportation advocates in cities concerned about delivery robots flooding sidewalks.
The Safeway sidewalk delivery robot is not Albertsons’ only recent high-tech experiment. In January, the chain began piloting an automated, temperature controlled pickup kiosk placed in the parking lot of a Jewel-Osco location in Chicago.
- Albertsons Cos.’ Safeway tests automated grocery delivery cart – Supermarket News
- Sidewalk robots get legal rights as “pedestrians” – Yahoo News
- Kroger to deliver groceries using driverless cars – RetailWire
- Albertsons’ pilot is latest part of the plan to supercharge omnichannel ops – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the timing right for contactless delivery using robots and/or driverless vehicles to catch on? Do you think it’s more likely that remote-controlled or AI-powered autonomous robots/vehicles will be more readily adopted?