European retailers and tech companies are moving ahead with the development of autonomous delivery vehicles.
While small delivery robots that stick to sidewalks have been deployed in some trial locations across the continent, fully autonomous delivery vehicles have yet to hit European roads in the absence of regulation.
But recent pilot projects in Germany and France point to an evolving landscape and provide a glimpse into the future of European logistics.
Last month, the Hamburg traffic authority issued Europe’s first permit to Berlin-based startup Vay Technologies to begin testing driverless vehicles on public roads, marking an important milestone on the journey toward self-driving cars.
Vay had already been operating remote-controlled electric cars on public roads in Berlin and Hamburg for more than three years with a safety driver on board and can now conduct tests in a predefined area in Hamburg-Bergedorf without a driver in the car.
The cars will be driven remotely from a “teledrive center” where teledrivers operate the vehicle from a driving station with a steering wheel, pedals and set of monitors displaying a real-time camera feed of the car’s live traffic environment.
The company said its immediate focus is on developing a mobility solution that will allow people to order a remotely driven vehicle which they can then drive to their destination before handing control back over to a teledriver.
In the long run, remote driving solutions like Vay’s have broader applicability across delivery and logistics services and could represent an important steppingstone toward the rollout of fully autonomous vehicles.
Retailers Eye Driverless Delivery Solutions
Meanwhile, the 5G Open Road project launched in France last year is pursuing work as one of Europe’s largest test environments for automated mobility.
Taking place in the Plateau de Saclay — known as the French Silicon Valley — and Vélizy areas, the French initiative brings together vehicle manufacturers, 5G network operators and various players in the mobility and micromobility space to test how autonomous driving and other connected vehicle technologies work in a live urban environment.
In the project’s latest development, French retail chain Carrefour announced last month that it has begun testing autonomous delivery vehicles in collaboration with its technology partner Goggo Network, one of the European companies pioneering research and development into delivery robots and the infrastructure needed to support them.
During the trial, residents on the Plateau de Saclay, including students at the Paris Institut Polytechnique, can submit an order on the Carrefour website and have one of the retailer’s autonomous trucks deliver it. Once the vehicle arrives at its destination, customers unlock their locker using a pre-sent code to retrieve their shopping.
Gaining Regional Traction
Although the continent may be several years away from seeing larger delivery vehicles like the autonomous “Carrefour Drive” trucks on public roads, at a smaller scale, robotic delivery units are already in operation across the continent.
While Amazon may have recently curtailed its home delivery robot project to cut costs, the concept has already taken root in various European locations thanks to firms like Goggo Network.
In addition to being involved in the 5G Open Road project, Goggo Network is piloting its robotic delivery system in Zaragoza, Spain, where the company has teamed up with Flipdish to deploy its autonomous delivery units to fulfill restaurant orders.
Meanwhile, delivery robotics leader Starship Technologies, which raised $100 million in funding last year, has already deployed delivery units on the streets of various cities across the United Kingdom and Germany.