The online grocery giant is continuing to push autonomous technology in its operations
Online grocery giant Ocado has started trialling a prototype driverless van in London to deliver goods over short distances in the capital.
With a maximum speed of 25mph, Ocado’s electric CargoPod resembles something akin to a sci-fi milk float, and is being put to the test in the Greenwich Borough of south-east London, which is already a hot spot for autonomous vehicle testing.
With a range of 18 miles an a capacity to carry eight crates worth of groceries, the CargoPod is only suitable for small orders, though as a prototype its size and capacity means there will not be a huge amount of damage caused or lost good is something goes amiss during it autonomous trials.
The CargoPod was developed by robotics company Oxbotica rather than Ocado itself, which already has a mass of technology such as robot filled warehouses.
The trial of the CargoPod is part of the £8 million GATEWay Project run by TRL and the government’s innovation agency Innovate UK, with the goal to test and develop driverless cars in a urban environment with public participation in the trials.
Like many of the vehicles being tested in Greenwich, the CargoPod uses a combination of ‘off the shelf’ components, such as front and rear cameras, a LIDAR system and sensors to detect obstacles, cars and pedestrians.
A custom operating system called Selenium provides the autonomous brain for taking all the data picked up by the hardware and using it to drive the CargoPod.
During the testing a driver manually steers the CargoPod into a starting position before the autonomous system kicks in, and the driver remains in the vehicle ready to take over if something goes wrong with the self-driving system.
When the CargoPod arrives at a a delivery location, customers can simply press a button on an illuminated hatch to retrieve their order.
“We are always looking to come up with unique, innovative solutions to the real-world challenge of delivering groceries in densely-populated urban environments,” said David Sharp, head of 10x department at Ocado.
“This project is part of the on-going journey to be at the edge of what is practical and offer our Ocado Smart Platform customers new and exciting solutions for last mile deliveries.”
If the trials are a success and there is a wider adoption of autonomous vehicles beyond testing hotspots in the UK, then it is likely Ocado would scale up its use of autonomous vehicles to include self-driving vans, However, a raft of regulations and liability issues stand in the way of driverless cars, even though the autonomous technology appears to be fairly robust.
What do you know about tech in transport? Take our quiz!