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DoorDash eyes driverless vehicles for grocery delivery

DoorDash eyes driverless vehicles for grocery delivery

Food delivery service plans pilot with Cruise Automation

DoorDash is looking to autonomous vehicles to help grow its online grocery delivery business.

The food delivery company said Thursday that it has teamed up with Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based developer of driverless cars, to test food deliveries from restaurants and grocery stores.

Plans call for DoorDash to begin piloting food deliveries using Cruise autonomous vehicles in March, initially in the San Francisco market. In the test, DoorDash customers will receive deliveries from restaurants via Cruise vehicles. The companies said they also will explore grocery fulfillment using the Cruise cars for grocers already partnered with DoorDash.

“We’re kicking off our pilot in San Francisco, a complex and intricate city where Cruise has been testing vehicles for the past three years. To begin, we’ve built a runner system to move orders from the merchant to the autonomous vehicle. Then the customer will be notified when the autonomous vehicle is approaching the customer address,” Penn Daniel, special projects operations lead for DoorDash, said in a blog post Thursday. “In partnership with Cruise Automation, we look forward to scaling and improving the delivery experience for our merchants, dashers and customers.”

Founded in 2013, San Francisco-based DoorDash primarily has partnered with restaurants for its on-demand delivery platform. But this past April, the company made a big foray into the grocery realm by announcing a partnership with Walmart, with grocery delivery service initially launching in the Atlanta metropolitan area. It’s now available at 500 stores in nearly 70 markets.

In mid-November, DoorDash also partnered with digital grocery specialist Mercatus to develop a turnkey last-mile delivery offering for grocery retailers. Under the solution, orders — including prepared meals, snacks, alcohol, groceries and other goods — are processed through the Mercatus Dispatch platform and then fulfilled via the DoorDash Drive platform. Both are white-label platforms, enabling retailer branding.

A spokeswoman for DoorDash said that, at this time, the company isn’t disclosing the grocer retailers that it plans to work with in the San Francisco pilot with Cruise.

“We are excited to partner with Cruise to develop our expertise in the autonomous vehicle delivery space,” DoorDash CEO Tony Xu said in a statement. “We see autonomous vehicles playing a major role in the future of delivery as consumer behaviors continue to shift online, and we are confident Cruise’s leading technology will help us scale to meet growing consumer demand.”

DoorDash aims to use the Cruise driverless vehicles to test and improve the efficiency of getting food and groceries from its merchants to its customers’ doors. The companies said they will evaluate and develop safety, operational and other learnings in the pilot.

Owned by General Motors and also backed by Honda Motor Co., Cruise uses the Chevrolet EV Bolt for its fleet. The vehicles sport an array of sensors, cameras and radars to capture a 360-degree view that enables them to “intelligently” navigate city streets. Each car carries 10 cameras that take pictures at a rate of 10 shots per second. The company, founded in 2013, said the sensors allow for data collection across traffic, road maintenance and environmental factors, as well as real-life road situations like a dog darting across the road or an unexpected hard braking by another car in front of the vehicle. During development and testing, an operator sits behind the wheel and can take control of the vehicle when necessary.

“Delivery is a significant opportunity for Cruise as we prepare to commercialize our autonomous vehicle technology and transform transportation,” Cruise CEO Dan Ammann stated. “Partnering with DoorDash will provide us with critical learnings as we further our mission to deliver technology that makes people’s lives better and more convenient.”

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