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Cutting out the delivery man in British online retail trial


(Reuters) — British milkmen could be a thing of the past in some areas if a trial of driverless grocery deliveries direct to your door by online retailer Ocado gets the green light.

While legislative and insurance issues are still unclear, the company is pushing ahead with the trial and has used a self-driving vehicle with eight containers that can carry 282 pounds of groceries to deliver coffee, chocolate and other goods over the past two weeks.

"It seemed like a really exciting experience," Tobie Cusson said of the CargoPod trial in South London, which involved choosing from a selection of healthy treats, a collection of movie night snacks or high-end coffee and chocolates.

"I despise paying delivery fees when I order online, so any types of technology that can reduce the cost of providing a delivery service are very attractive to me," Mr. Cusson added.

When the CargoPod arrives, a container lights up and is opened at the push of a button, technology that Ocado said could be rolled out globally to traditional retailers within a decade.

The vehicle includes cameras and LiDAR sensors — which measure the distance to a target by illuminating it with a pulsed laser light — to detect any obstacles.

For the trials, a safety driver and Ocado delivery person were on also on board, but Ocado Chief Technology Officer Paul Clarke says the technology will be in place to roll out driverless deliveries by 2021.

"It's not going to become ubiquitous, but there are certain areas where it makes sense to do this," Mr. Clarke said, adding that Ocado will need to see how potential barriers in legislation and insurance develop.

Last month the government outlined plans for an Automated and Electrical Vehicles Bill, which is aimed at boosting the self-driving industry, which it says will be worth 28 billion pounds ($36.3 billion) by 2035.