Ocado advances autonomous vehicle strategy with Oxbotica deal

The £10m investment is part of a push to enhance Ocado’s last-mile delivery and logistics capabilities, with first prototypes expected for 2023

Ocado has made a £10m investment in British autonomous vehicle company Oxbotica as part of a multi-year effort to enhance and reduce the cost of the online grocery retailer’s last-mile delivery and logistics operations.

The investment is part of Oxbotica’s latest Series B funding round, led by BP Ventures and will see Ocado taking a seat on the Oxford-based company’s board. The new funding builds on the existing relationship between the companies, which began with an autonomous delivery trial in London in 2017.

The companies will work together on Ocado’s plan to go beyond the online grocery store by providing a technology platform that can be utilised by global retailers.

The scope for collaboration, according to Ocado, ranges from vehicles that operate inside of Ocado’s customer fulfilment centre (CFC) buildings and the yard areas that surround them, all the way to last-mile deliveries and “kerb-to-kitchen” robots.

Through all aspects of autonomous vehicles will be considered in the work between Ocado and Oxbotica, the retailer expects that the development of autonomous vehicles operating in low-speed urban areas or in restricted access areas, such as inside its CFC buildings or yards, “may become a reality sooner than fully autonomous deliveries to consumers’ homes”. The company expects the first prototypes of some early use cases for autonomous vehicles will be delivered within two years.

To that end, Ocado will be using Oxbotica’s artificial intelligence-based products Selenium, an on-vehicle platform that brings full autonomy to a vehicle in a way that is agnostic to both hardware and environment, and Caesium, a cloud-based autonomy management system enabling detailed control, audit, data management and monitoring to autonomous fleets.

As well as potential reduction in costs, Ocado said it sees “significant opportunities” enhance its ability to use Oxbotica’s technology to respond to peak delivery demands, reducing the cost-to-serve of its immediacy approach, and improving sustainability and environmental impact by accelerating the shift to electrically powered vehicles.

Initially, the work will focus on Ocado’s UK operations, and then extend internationally. According to the retailer, which employs 19,000 staff in the UK and abroad, the projects are not expected to have impact on current hiring or employment levels in its logistics or operations areas.

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