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Ocado gets closer to autonomous delivery with Wayve trial

Startup Wayve takes what it believes is a different approach to autonomous driving by modelling the behaviour of a driver

Ocado Group has invested £10m in autonomous mobility startup Wayve. Building on a previous partnership with Oxbotica in April, the new partnership aims to help the grocery delivery firm accelerate the development of autonomous grocery deliveries for complex urban environments.

Wayve specialises in deep learning and camera-first technology, which it said has the ability to adapt to new, unstructured, highly complex environments without the need for pre-programming, human-designed rules or high-definition mapping. 

Through the collaboration with Ocado, Wayve’s technology will be used in an autonomous delivery trial on a selection of Ocado delivery vans. Ocado said the 12-month trial will test autonomous deliveries on urban delivery routes.

Ocado plans to use the trial to understand how Wayve can handle the congested streets and challenging manoeuvres that last-mile delivery technology must be equipped to navigate. The company also plans to fit Wayve’s technology to some of its existing delivery fleet, which will be used to provide data for training and validating Wayve’s technology. 

Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado Group, said: “Ocado is on a journey to develop highly intelligent autonomous mobility systems to further transform the operational economics, and proposition, of the Ocado Smart Platform for our OSP retail partners.

“We’ve been impressed with Wayve’s approach to solving this most complex of challenges and are excited to accelerate our capabilities so that our retail partners globally can take advantage of them at the earliest opportunity,” he said.

In a positioning paper, Reimagining an autonomous vehicle, published in August, Jeff Hawke, vice-president for technology at Wayve, described the approach the company takes as AV 2.0, which models the behaviour of a driver. “Instead of relying on the traditional AV stack, HD maps and hand-coded rules, AV 2.0 is focused on building a data-driven learned driver that can scale, adapt and generalise its driving intelligence to places it has never seen before.”

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Rather than adopting a “sense-plan-act” paradigm, he said Wayve uses the idea of a holistic learned driver, where sensing and planning are solved jointly with data in a neural network, creating an “end-to-end” approach to self-driving.

“Our experience from testing in a busy city is proving to us that deep learning is the way forward for autonomous driving,” said Hawke.

The Wayve investment builds on the £10m of funding Ocado has provided to Oxbotica, which has developed an artificial intelligence-based product called Selenium. This is an on-vehicle platform designed to provide full autonomy to a vehicle in a way that is agnostic to both hardware and environment.

Oxbotica also provides a cloud-based autonomy management system called Caesium, which offers detailed control, audit, data management and monitoring to autonomous fleets.

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