Driverless van grocery trial deliveries begin

The world’s first driverless grocery deliveries are taking place this month in the UK, thanks to a trial led by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and Ocado Technology, a division of the online-only supermarket.

As part of TRL’s GATEway Project, an autonomous ‘CargoPod’ vehicle will be making deliveries around the Berkeley Homes Royal Arsenal Riverside development in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London, delivering Ocado groceries to over 100 residential customers.

Taking place in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab, the GATEway Project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) is a research programme, led by TRL and funded by UK government and industry. It aims to demonstrate the use of autonomous vehicles for ‘last mile’ deliveries and mobility, connecting existing distribution and transport hubs with residential and commercial areas using zero emission, low noise transport systems. The CargoPod was developed by robotics experts, Oxbotica, and is guided by the company’s Selenium autonomy software, which enables real-time, accurate navigation, planning and perception in live environments. The pod is able to carry a total of 128kg of groceries at a time.

The focus of the study is both on the commercial opportunities of self-driving technology and how it functions alongside people in a residential environment. This, the third of four trials with the GATEway Project, is exploring the public’s perceptions and understanding of driverless delivery vehicles.

Ocado Technology is using the trials to explore the practicalities of deploying self-driving vehicles for last mile deliveries.

The trial is run in partnership with ‘Digital Greenwich’, an initiative that has established Greenwich internationally as a flagship ‘smart city’, where new technologies are being developed and tested in real, complex urban environments. GATEway is one of several projects taking place in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab at Greenwich – an open, real world, validated test environment for the evaluation of the next generation of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Simon Tong, Principal Research Scientist at TRL, said, “This trial with Ocado Technology provides an ideal platform to help us understand how and where these vehicles could best operate and whether people would accept, trust and like them as an automated delivery service in the city. We envisage that cities could benefit massively if deliveries could be made by quiet, zero emission, automated vehicles when congestion is minimal.” Business Minister, Claire Perry, added, “The GATEway project takes us another step closer to seeing self-driving vehicles on UK roads, and has the potential to reduce congestion in urban areas while reducing emissions. Backed by government, this project firmly establishes the UK as a global centre for developing self-driving innovation.”