Don’t worry, you haven’t fallen, but the turnip truck is about to start driving itself.
Oklahoma City-metro area residents soon could begin ordering groceries to be delivered from autonomous, self-driving vehicles. A partnership between local Buy For Less brand grocery stores, which includes Uptown Grocery Co., and San Francisco-based Udelv was announced Sept. 13 — with plans to begin deliveries next year.
The vehicles resemble vans, though they have been custom-built for grocery delivery and contain several compartments for storage. The vehicles are capable of delivering groceries without a driver, and consumers are then able to remove their groceries using a unique access code for each compartment. Purchases made online through Buy For Less digital platforms will then be made available for delivery throughout the Oklahoma City metro area when fully implemented.
“We’re excited about not only what the technology will bring but what the future will bring,” Buy For Less founder and co-owner Hank Binkowski said.
However, the vehicles have a while to go before they are fully autonomous. The vehicles will operate with a “safety driver” until the state allows for driverless operation. Oklahoma still is exploring the possibility of allowing fully autonomous vehicles. It is unknown when the vehicles would operate completely without drivers.
“We aren’t the first, but we aren’t the last, and we felt it was time to get started,” Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Mike Patterson said.
Udelv operates some of its vehicles in California, all with licensed safety drivers, CEO Daniel Laury said.
Oklahoma is the first state outside of California that Udelv will operate in, but the Midwest was a region Laury always expected would be one of the first to implement autonomous vehicles. The city streets in the region often are more grid-like and conducive to operating autonomous vehicles.
Another unknown is a potential cost for this delivery service. Buy For Less co-owner Susan Binkowski said the company still is exploring a business model for the service to customers. Susan Binkowski and Laury described the vehicles as expensive but did not disclose how much each costs.
While the vehicles eventually could operate without a safety driver, Susan Binkowski does anticipate the grocery chain will need to hire additional employees to fulfill orders and pack vehicles for delivery.