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Autonomous delivery van drives at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Kar-go aims to revolutionise online deliveries by cutting the cost of the final mile

On the opening day of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a new company called Kar-go gave the first public demonstration of what is believed to be Europe’s first roadworthy autonomous delivery vehicle.

Unveiled at the Future Lab exhibition at Goodwood, Kar-go aims to provide a solution for retailers that need to compete with Amazon’s free deliveries. According to the company’s founder, William Sachiti, the most expensive part of delivering items to people’s homes is the so-called last mile – the final part of their journey to the customer.

The Kar-go autonomous vehicle uses an Nvidia Drive PX graphics processing unit (GPU) system to run real-time image detection for autonomous driving. It also includes a robot picker, which is used at the delivery destination to grab the package ready for the customer.

Kar-go uses a combination of continuous-time recurrent neural networks (CTRNNs) with convolutional neural networks (CNNs) and long short-term memory (LSTM), which Sachiti said creates a highly evolved top-level controller system that can “learn” from the past, “perceive” its environment and make any necessary corrections. 

Unlike autonomous cars, which are being designed to drive on any road, Kar-go will have defined local driving routes, which Sachiti said means it can learn normal activities and objects that appear on its driving routes.

As is the case with military drone pilots, when being driven in the real world, Kar-go will also have a remote human operator on hand to step in if there are unforeseen events. However, in the event of any emergencies, he said Kar-go would slow down and stop automatically.

Kar-go autonomous delivery vehicle

Sachiti expects to have one Kar-go vehicle piloting autonomous deliveries within three months and anticipates that autonomous deliveries via Kar-go will roll out in 2020.

The company has raised over £300,000 through Crowdcube and has hired a team of artificial intelligence (AI) experts, as well as a chief designer from the McLaren Racing team, to develop software and hardware. Kar-go has launched the next funding round to scale-up production and testing.

When asked about potential competition such as Amazon’s drone deliveries, Sachiti said he was confident that local authorities and the public would not tolerate the level of noise that drones generate. And while other autonomous delivery robots do exist, he said these have largely been restricted to use on the pavement, rather than on the road.

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