Kroger expands autonomous delivery with new vehicles

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Kroger is delivering groceries with third-generation Nuro autonomous vehicles.

The Kroger Co. is growing its digital offerings in Houston with the introduction of next-generation autonomous delivery vehicles.

The nation’s largest grocery retailer is building on an existing partnership with autonomous vehicle provider Nuro. In 2019, Kroger and Nuro went live with a self-driving grocery delivery service pilot in Houston, following a successful pilot in Scottsdale, Ariz. In both pilots, Kroger delivered fresh groceries with all-electric, autonomous vehicles provided by Nuro.

Leveraging Nuro's new third-generation vehicles, Kroger will continue expand autonomous grocery delivery in Houston. Kroger views this expanded collaboration as a key part of its developing seamless ecosystem, designed to support customers who want to shop online, in-store, or a combination of both.

Other key components of Kroger’s seamless ecosystem include high-tech customer fulfillment centers (CFCs). Introduced in partnership with U.K.-based online grocer Ocado in May 2018, the CFC model combines vertical integration, machine learning, and robotics with affordable and fast delivery service for fresh food. 

CFC also represents one of the models engineered for the grocer’s flexible, vertically integrated Kroger Delivery network, which also includes smaller automated facilities and spoke locations, such as a recently opened Indianapolis fast delivery facility. In CFCs, more than 1,000 robots traverse giant 3D grids, orchestrated by proprietary air-traffic control systems in the unlicensed spectrum. The grid, known as The Hive, contains totes with products and ready-to-deliver customer orders.

As customers' orders near their delivery times, the robots retrieve products from The Hive, which are presented at stations for items to be sorted for delivery via an algorithmic sorting process.

Kroger is not the only major retailer to test Nuro autonomous vehicles in its last mile supply chain. 7-Eleven is engaging Nuro in an autonomous delivery pilot in Mountain View, Calif. Customers in the service area can place orders through the retailer’s 7Now delivery app to have their products brought to them by a Toyota Prius equipped with Nuro’s self-navigation technology.

And in In December 2019, Walmart and pizza chain Domino’s both began testing the Nuro R2 for deliveries in the Houston area. Nuro’s new third-generation vehicle is designed to carry more goods and enable more deliveries, with twice the cargo volume of the company’s second-generation vehicle. The automotive production-grade vehicle will also feature modular inserts to customize storage and new temperature-controlled compartments to keep goods warm or cool.

Safety enhancements will include an external air bag to further improve safety for pedestrians outside the vehicle, as well as a multi-modal sensing suite, including cameras, radars, lidar and thermal cameras. The all-electric, autonomous vehicles also support Kroger's Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social and environmental impact plan, and are aligned with Kroger's commitment to reduce corporate greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our expanded collaboration with Nuro supports Kroger's commitment to provide fresh food, at a great value – all without asking our customers to compromise," said Yael Cosset, Kroger senior VP and CIO. "The role of autonomous vehicles in our seamless ecosystem continues to increase, contributing to meeting our customers in the context of their day without compromising on the quality or value, while contributing to our long-term growth and sustainability goals."

"We are thrilled to expand our longstanding strategic partnership with Kroger and further our shared vision for the future of goods delivery," said Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president. "We look forward to leveraging our third-generation, and most advanced, autonomous vehicle to date to continue to build on the success of this program."

"We are excited to expand our collaboration with Nuro here in Houston, one of the largest cities in the U.S.," said Laura Gump, president, Houston Kroger division. "Our associates, customers and city embrace innovation and we are thrilled to be able to soon provide this enterprising grocery delivery service to even more shoppers across the region."