Online grocery platform Ocado is investing in automated vehicle developer Oxbotica. Ocado will invest £10m in Oxbotica.
As part of the collaboration, Ocado will equip a subset of its delivery vans and warehouse vehicles with data capture capabilities, which may include video cameras, LiDAR, RADAR and other sensing devices.
Ocado will make the data available to Oxbotica to train and test its technologies. The companies will collaborate on developing hardware and software interfaces for autonomous vehicles. Ocado will also take a seat on Oxbotica’s board.
Possible use cases range from vehicles that operate inside of Ocado’s customer fulfilment centre (CFC) buildings and the yard areas that surround them, to last-mile deliveries and kerb-to-kitchen robots.
The ultimate aim is to enable Ocado’s partners that use the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) to reduce the costs of last-mile delivery and other logistics operations.
Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado, said: “We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners’ customer fulfilment centre and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility.”
The Ocado/Oxbotica relationship began in 2017, when they used an early prototype delivery vehicle to trial autonomous deliveries in Greenwich, London – the small “CargoPod” vehicle that held eight boxes and required customers to leave their houses to pick up their shopping.
Oxbotica’s latest Series B equity funding round was led by bp ventures, and included strategic and financial investors in the US, the UK, China and Australia, such as Tencent, Halma, BGF, HostPlus, IP Group, Venture Science, and funds advised by Doxa Partners.
Oxbotica’s two core products are Selenium and Caesium. Selenium is an on-vehicle suite of software that brings full autonomy to a vehicle in a way that is agnostic to both hardware and environment. Caesium is a cloud-based autonomy management system that brings fine-grained control, audit, data management and monitoring to autonomous fleets.
Oxbotica’s products use a set of AI, machine learning and optimisation technologies to yield a low-power, safe, explainable, quick-to-deploy, modular and completely flexible “Universal Autonomy” platform.
Paul Newman, co-founder and chief technical officer of Oxbotica, said: “This is an excellent opportunity for Oxbotica and Ocado to strengthen our partnership, sharing our vision for the future of autonomy. By combining both companies’ cutting-edge knowledge and resources, we hope to bring our Universal Autonomy vision to life and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex autonomy challenges.
“Ocado will build teams of engineers within its existing Advanced Technology division to work with Oxbotica on these diverse use cases. The Advanced Technology division is independent from the engineering team that develops core OSP software and automation. The initial development work will focus on UK operations, and will then extend to international markets where Ocado’s partners operate.
Logistics costs constitute the single-largest line item in the operating cost structure of online grocery. Moving finished orders from CFCs to ‘spokes’ (where they are then cross-docked to delivery vans) represents approximately 1.5% of sales in the UK; the cost of final mile delivery is approximately 10% of sales. Labour represents approximately 50% of these costs.
Beyond potential cost savings within its core operations, Ocado sees significant opportunities to improve its partners’ customer proposition by being better able to respond to peak delivery demands, reducing the cost-to-serve of its immediacy proposition, and accelerating the shift to electrically-powered vehicles.
For both regulatory and complexity reasons, Ocado expects that the development of vehicles that operate in low-speed urban areas or in restricted access areas, such as inside its CFC buildings or within its CFC yards. Ocado expects to see the first prototypes of some early use cases for autonomous vehicles within two years. In addition to this collaboration with Oxbotica, Ocado continues to seek further investments and/or partnerships as it grows and develops its autonomous vehicle capabilities.
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