A self-driving van designed to deliver groceries to your home has hit the streets of California for the first time.
The distinctive orange vehicles are capable of making around 40 deliveries, at a top speed of 25 miles per hour (40 km/h).
They are designed to address the ‘last mile’ problem of shipping, which is the most difficult for businesses to automate.
If testing is successful, they could become a common sight on streets around the world in the years to come.
The vehicle, built by Burlingame company Udelv, completed a 2.5-mile (4 km) loop from Draeger’s Market in San Mateo to two nearby customers.
The route included traffic lights, lane changes, intersections without signals and the two delivery stops.
A safety driver was on-board during the test mode demonstration, in line with the state’s laws on automated vehicles, and will remain in place as testing continues throughout February.
Udelv can also monitor and control the vehicles remotely, allowing it to override its automated systems and give a human operator control if needed.
The vehicles are equipped with level-four autonomous driving capabilities, according to their creators, which means they can cope with most situations automatically, but may struggle with some weather and road conditions.
Daniel Laury, the firm’s CEO, said: ‘Deliveries are the perfect first application for autonomous vehicles.
‘This is a historic revolution in transportation. We are reinventing deliveries.
‘McKinsey estimates that 80 per cent of all package deliveries will be autonomous in the next decade.
‘I am very proud that Udelv is first and leads this revolution.’
The Udelv vehicle is fully electric and features 18 secure cargo compartments of varying sizes, each equipped with automatic doors.
Customers open the locker with a press of a button on their smartphone or tablet and the vehicle heads on its way to the next delivery or back to the store.
The vehicle can drive for up to 60 miles (95 km) before needing to recharge, carrying up to 700 pounds (320 kg) of cargo.
A dedicated app is already available on iOS to track and reschedule deliveries, with an Android version to be released soon.
Udelv is now operating in the area around the test route, where Draeger’s customers can book delivery within a one or two hour window of ordering.
It is planning to test dozens of the vehicles on the roads of a few other states in the near future.
Udelv is planning to use a subscription business model to roll out its vehicle fleet.
Udelv is not the first company to have come up with new options for automated delivery, with a number of firms racing to corner the market.
In recent days, a pair of ex-Google engineers unveiled a new self-driving van also designed to deliver groceries to your home.
Silicon valley startup Nuro.ai raised £65 million ($92 million) to create a working prototype of its ‘R1’ vehicle, which the company says will never seat a human inside.
The low-speed car is fitted with panels in its side that open up via an app to reveal its cargo, and Nuro claims it could have a road-legal fleet ready by 2022.
The smartphone app will give a code that pops open the vehicle’s side hatches so customers can fetch their items.
It will also let customers know when the vehicle is nearby so people know when to head outside for collection.
Nuro said it is even considering using facial-recognition cameras as part of its delivery process.
Back in August 2017, residents of Greenwich had access to the UK’s first self-driving delivery service.
Online supermarket Ocado successful completed trial deliveries using driverless vehicles on residential and semi-pedestrianised roads.
The electric CargoPod is a street-legal vehicle equipped with multiple sensors and cameras placed around the vehicle’s body to navigate safely through the streets.
The van can hold up to 282 pounds (128 kg) of groceries at a time.
The compartment doors light up upon arrival to indicate where a customer’s shopping is contained.
Customers need to greet the delivery vans themselves and carry their shopping inside.