Ocado has unveiled a serious push into autonomous driving technology.
It has teamed up with another British company, Oxbotica, to build self-driving vehicles for itself and others who use its platform.
That could include automatic forklift trucks at warehouses, self-driving delivery vans, or maybe “kerb to the kitchen” robots for the ultimate leg.
As a part of the deal, Ocado has bought a £10m stake in Oxbotica.
Together, they say they plan to build hardware and software for autonomous vehicles.
In recent years, Ocado has tried to project itself as a technology platform to be employed by global retailers, instead of just a web grocery.
It has developed robots that now pick and pack groceries at its state-of-the-art fulfillment centers, and in the week, America’s Kroger supermarket chain unveiled its first warehouse using the Ocado technology.
Kroger’s delivery vans also use software developed by Ocado to plot the foremost efficient routes.
The new partnership with Oxbotica will aim to require this concept further.
Oxbotica builds autonomous driving software for a variety of worldwide clients. The company was founded in 2014 by two Oxford professors – Newman and Ingmar Posner – whose university research focused on self-driving cars.
The startup company has just raised new funding from investors in the UK, US, and China. Ocado’s £10m stakes are a component of that funding round and can provide it a seat on Oxbotica’s board.
In its announcement, Ocado tempered expectations and said that getting permission from regulators to work autonomous vehicles on public roads – allowing driverless deliveries to customers’ homes – may take some time.
But it said that “last-mile” deliveries to customers’ homes are a big part of a web retailer’s costs, with labor accounting for half that – so autonomous vans could produce big savings.
In the short term, it sees vehicles operating in restricted areas like its own warehouses, with the primary prototypes coming within two years.