Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Gateway project investigates autonomous last-kilometre deliveries

Steve Rogerson
July 6, 2017

A self-driving van is delivering groceries in the London borough of Greenwich as part of the Gateway autonomous vehicle project.
Led by the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and online supermarket Ocado, the autonomous CargoPod vehicle is driving around a riverside development in Greenwich delivering grocery orders to more than one hundred customers.
The Gateway project is a research programme led by TRL and funded by UK government and industry. It aims to demonstrate the use of autonomous vehicles for last-kilometre deliveries and mobility, seamlessly connecting existing distribution and transport hubs with residential and commercial areas using zero emission, low noise transport systems.
CargoPod, developed by Oxbotica as part of the project, is guided by its Selenium autonomy software system, which enables real-time, accurate navigation, planning and perception in dynamic environments. The pod is able to carry 128kg of groceries at a time.
The focus of the study is both on the commercial opportunities of self-driving technology and how it functions alongside people in a residential environment. This, the third of four trials with the Gateway project, is exploring the public’s perceptions and understanding of driverless delivery vehicles.
Ocado is using the trials to explore the logistics and practicalities of deploying self-driving vehicles as part of the last-kilometre offering for the Ocado Smart Platform, an end-to-end method for providing bricks-and-mortar grocery retailers around the world with a shortcut for moving online.
“Ocado Technology is delighted to have worked in partnership with the Gateway project to a complete a very successful grocery delivery trial using driverless vehicles,” said David Sharp from Ocado Technology. “We are always looking to come up with unique, innovations in the real-world challenge of delivering groceries in densely-populated urban environments. This project is part of the on-going journey to be at the edge of what is practical and offer our Ocado Smart Platform customers new and exciting solutions for last mile deliveries.”
The research findings will also help guide the wider roll out of autonomous vehicles, which, in the future, may play an important role in cutting inner city congestion and air pollution.
The trial is run in partnership with Digital Greenwich, an initiative that has established Greenwich internationally as a flagship smart city, where technologies are being developed and tested in real, complex urban environments. Gateway is one of several projects taking place in the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab at Greenwich, an open, real world, validated test environment for the evaluation of the next generation of connected and autonomous vehicles.
“The Gateway project is unique in that it considers the effect of automated vehicles on the movement of goods as well as the movement of people,” said Simon Tong, technical lead for the Gateway project. “This trial with Ocado Technology provides an ideal platform to help us understand how and where these vehicles could best operate and whether people would accept, trust and like them as an automated delivery service in the city. We envisage that cities could benefit massively if deliveries could be made by quiet, zero emission, automated vehicles when congestion is minimal.”
Trial customers place their orders for groceries online. They can order from a choice of three free gift hampers – healthy treats, movie night snacks or indulgent goodies. These go to the Ocado fulfilment centre where their groceries are picked and packed. These are then dispatched to a mobile warehouse where they are loaded into CargoPod for the last-kilometre delivery.
The autonomous CargoPod is loaded with several customers’ orders at a hub location. Simultaneously, the customer orders are uploaded to Caesium, the fleet management software system.
Once the goods are loaded, CargoPod is driven manually to the starting location and switched to autonomous mode. A safety steward will be in the driver’s seat at all times.
The Caesium system sends a delivery route to CargoPod, which then begins traveling autonomously along the route, stopping at or near to customers’ homes. The customer will receive updates from the Ocado Technology customer service team.
The door to the load bay containing the customers’ groceries illuminates on arrival. The customer can unlock the bay by pressing the central button and opening the door to collect their groceries. CargoPod’s on-board system notifies Caesium that the delivery is complete and the next delivery point is set. Once all the deliveries have been made, CargoPod returns to the loading station.
“Last-mile delivery is a growing challenge as our cities become denser and more congested,” said Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica. “In this new project we are working closely with Ocado Technology to deploy our Selenium autonomy system into a novel last-mile delivery application..”
The CargoPod trial is taking place at Royal Arsenal Riverside, London, a development by Berkeley Homes of nearly 5000 homes and 65,000 square metres of commercial and leisure uses. It is on the site of the historic Royal Arsenal, a focus of industry innovation and invention over many centuries.
Gateway is an £8m research project, led by TRL and jointly funded by government and industry, to understand and overcome the technical, legal and societal challenges of implementing automated vehicles in an urban environment.
Ocado is the world’s largest online-only supermarket, and is developing systems in the areas of robotics, machine learning, simulation, data science, forecasting and routing, inference engines, big data, real-time control, and more. The fusion between the Ocado retail and technology divisions aims to create a virtuous circle of innovation that leads to disruptive thinking.