The Kroger Co. has launched a pilot to deliver online grocery orders — to nearly any location — by autonomous drones.
Under a partnership with Drone Express, a division of TELEGRID Technologies, Kroger will be able to deliver products not just to a street address but also on the spot, such as bringing picnic supplies to a park, sunscreen to the beach or condiments to a backyard cookout, the Cincinnati-based grocer said Monday.
The technology from Drone Express enables package delivery to the location of a smartphone, allowing customers to order via a mobile device and receive their goods where they are, according to Kroger.
Plans call for Drone Express to begin test flights this week near the Kroger Marketplace supermarket at 1095 South Main St. in Centerville, Ohio. Licensed Drone Express pilots will manage the flights from an on-site trailer, and additional monitoring will be done off-site. For the service, customers orders at kroger.com/DroneDelivery and can receive their items in as soon as 15 minutes.
“Kroger’s new drone delivery pilot is part of the evolution of our rapidly growing and innovative e-commerce business, which includes pickup, delivery and ship and reached more than $10 billion in sales in 2020,” Jody Kalmbach, group vice president of product experience at Kroger, said in a statement. “The pilot reinforces the importance of flexibility and immediacy to customers, powered by modern and efficient last-mile solutions. We’re excited to test drone delivery and gain insights that will inform expansion plans as well as future customer solutions.”
Kroger said it’s designing bundled product offerings based on customer needs that are within the approximately five-pound weight limit for drone delivery. For example, the retailer said it will offer a baby care bundle with wipes and formula; a child wellness bundle with over-the-counter medications and fluids; and a S’mores bundle with graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.
Customer deliveries are slated to get under way later this spring, Kroger said, and a second pilot is due to launch this summer at a Ralphs supermarket in California.
“The launch of the pilot in Centerville is the culmination of months of meticulous research and development by Kroger and Drone Express to better serve and meet the needs of our customers,” according to Ethan Grob, director of last-mile strategy and product at Kroger. “We look forward to progressing from test flights to customer deliveries this spring, introducing one more way for our customers to experience Kroger.”
East Hanover, N.J.-based TELEGRID said it’s one of 10 companies pre-approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for airworthiness consideration for its DE-2020 unmanned aircraft. A logistics unit of the company, Drone Express works with businesses to integrate drone delivery into their supply chains and service. A Drone Express facility recently opened in the southwest Ohio community of Monroe as a hub for manufacturing, testing and piloting of autonomous drones for commercial package delivery.
“Autonomous drones have unlimited potential to improve everyday life, and our technology opens the way to safe, secure, environmentally friendly deliveries for Kroger customers,” stated Beth Flippo, chief technology officer at TELEGRID. “The possibilities for customers are endless. We can enable Kroger customers to send chicken soup to a sick friend or get fast delivery of olive oil if they run out while cooking dinner.”
The pilot with Drone Express marks Kroger’s second trial of autonomous grocery delivery. In June 2018, Kroger unveiled a partnership with Nuro, a Mountain View, Calif.-based provider of robotics and artificial intelligence technology, to test grocery delivery via self-driving vehicles from a Fry’s Food Store in Scottsdale, Ariz. The test kicked off in August 2018, and then the service went live that December. Kroger announced an expansion of the Nuro service to a pair of Kroger supermarkets in Houston in March 2019, with deliveries beginning the following month.