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MIT Technology Review

Self-driving snacks? Grocery delivery becomes a test of autonomous-vehicle technology

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A partnership between the startups AutoX and GrubMarket will transport produce and snacks to your doorstep via autonomous vehicle—if you live in California.     

Sound familiar? Other companies are already using self-driving cars to deliver groceries. Kroger sets its cars loose in an Arizona test market. The British supermarket Ocado tested a similar service last year in Greenwich, England. The AutoX/GrubMarket service is the first to operate in California. It is active in San Jose and scheduled to expand to Mountain View and Palo Alto.

What else is different? Customers can shop by selecting specific items in a mobile app. Undecided customers can choose items directly from the backseat of the car, which is temperature-controlled and stocked with ready-made products such as fresh juice and yogurt. (Think of it as the opposite of a drive-through window.)

What about the tech? AutoX, whose founder and CEO, Jianxiong Xiao, was one of our Innovators Under 35 in 2017, outfits cars with high-resolution cameras instead of relying on pricy lidar. The startup says this approach is more economical and enables its AI to see farther ahead for longer distances. (The cars have trained backup human drivers inside, in accordance with California law.)

Why it matters Autonomous-vehicle startups are using grocery delivery to commercialize and fine-tune their technology. AutoX’s camera-centric system could make self-driving cars more accessible if carmakers and ride-sharing companies choose its technology over its competitors’.