Technology

Remote Control Grocery Delivery Hits the Road

Tortoise semiautonmous delivery carts partner with Self Point
Tortoise
Photograph courtesy of Tortoise

Here come the turtles.

Self Point, the end-to-end digital commerce solution for grocers, and Tortoise, the remote-controlled sidewalk home delivery provider, have announced a partnership to provide an automated same-day delivery solution for grocers. The Self Point platform will now offer this first-of-its-kind contactless delivery option they said would enable local grocers to provide a cost-effective and superb service to their customers.

Teleoperated light electric vehicles—essentially, remote-controlled wagons that travel on sidewalks, bike lines or road shoulders at slow speeds over short distances—represent a deployable and street-legal means of more efficiently meeting local delivery demand than alternatives such as crowdsourced drivers and store-based couriers, according to Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of Mountain View, Calif.-based Tortoise.

Shevelenko in an interview with WGB said he co-founded Tortoise after several years with Uber, leading the ride-share company’s expansion into other forms of shared mobility like scooters. Co-founder and Tortoise CEO David Graham brought a background in robotics. Their partnership first focused on providing remote repositioning vehicles that transported shared scooters to popular pickup points and charging stations. Deploying the same technology to modular carts, he said, was an ideal solution for grocery deliveries in close proximity to stores—in part because unlike fully autonomous street vehicles, the low speeds and weight limits make the solution legal to operate on sidewalks nearly anywhere, and the speed and delivery range meet consumer expectations for delivery within two hours of an order.

A number of U.S. grocers are currently exploring autonomous vehicles—notably Kroger and Walmart’s experiments with Nuro, and ongoing tests of various solutions in places such as Miami, Houston and Arizona where local regulations permit—as they look to provide customers with delivery options that cut down costs of the “last mile.” But such solutions still await regulations in many communities.

The Tortoise vehicles can carry about 100 pounds of goods—or about eight bags of groceries—for short trips at less than 7 miles an hour, providing what Shevelenko estimated was delivery costs of about $1 per mile, plus a monthly fee to lease the cart. “At a minimum, that’s 15% cheaper than your next-cheapest option,” he said, which would likely be a courier from the store or a crowdsourced driver.

Remote delivery takes advantage of technologies aboard the vehicle itself—cameras, sensors and routing software that are the building blocks of fully remote vehicles—and connects then with remote “drivers” who essentially control them with a video-game style joysticks. For Tortoise, these drivers are located in Mexico City.

“A grocer receives an online order request, and it goes through their system,” he explained. “If it’s within a three- mile radius of the store, they can assign it to the Tortoise cart and then they let our system know the delivery address, customer number and the customer name. At our teleoperations center, the next available operator will then be able to take control of that cart and see a 360-degree view of everything around it, on their laptop. And they have keyboard controls or a joystick that they’re using to then remotely drive that cart.”

Once the cart arrives at the desired location, the operator unlocks the container and notifies both the customer and the store of the completed delivery.

Retailers that lease carts are also finding them to be marketing vehicles in and of themselves, Shevelenko said. The carts are customizable and can carry branding messages and signup codes.

Pandemic Demand

The new offering comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has significantly accelerated online grocery shopping, with approximately 50% of consumers now shopping online, according to Self Point.

Self Point, founded in Israel and with U.S. headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a software platform bringing together point-of-sale and retail catalogs into a mobile-first, custom-branded e-commerce experience.  It has about 300 retail partners worldwide. Tortiose is among dozens of partnering technologies available through the platform.

“We want to support all grocers, but local grocers have a special place in our hearts. We expect this partnership to lay the groundwork for the future of local grocery online shopping and delivery, allowing neighborhood retailers to meet growing demands, increase margins on e-commerce orders, and provide the most eco-friendly, and cost effective solution available today,” said Orlee Tal, CEO of Self Point.

“We are thrilled to be able to serve our community in an innovative way using the Self Point and Tortoises’ solution,” said Mordi lalehzari, co-founder of Kosher Express and a Self-Point partnering retailer in Los Angeles. “The pandemic propelled us to move online and with the help of this unique offering, we efficiently rendered and executed an end-to-end solution that begins with placing an order online, continues with seamless fulfillment and ends with automated same-day delivery. We are thrilled to be able to provide our customers a simple and contactless shopping experience.”

Self Point said its products were designed to provide efficient online solutions for grocers, giving them tools to build and manage their inventory and picking processes while providing a superior experience.

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