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Ocado invests in Oxbotica to develop a range of autonomous vehicles

The Ocado Group, the online grocery platform and solutions provider, has announced that is has commercially partnered with Oxbotica to develop a range of autonomous vehicles that will be integrated into the Ocado Smart Platform.

The partnership will look to collaborate on hardware and software interfaces for autonomous vehicles, enhancing and integrating Oxbotica’s autonomy software platform into a variety of vehicles.

According to Ocado, the use cases range from vehicles that operate inside of Ocado’s Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC) buildings and the yard areas that surround them, all the way to last-mile deliveries and kerb-to-kitchen robots.

The companies said that this was a multi-year collaboration, with the ultimate ambition being to enable Ocado’s partners that use the Ocado Smart Platform (“OSP”) to reduce the costs of last-mile delivery and other logistics operations.

The Ocado/Oxbotica relationship began back in 2017, when the companies conducted a two-week trial using an early prototype delivery vehicle doing autonomous deliveries in Greenwich, London. Since that initial trial, Oxbotica has made significant progress in developing its platform, leading to this announcement of a broader relationship that includes both Ocado’s financial investment and a commercial collaboration agreement.

Oxbotica’s two core products are Selenium and Caesium. Selenium is an on-vehicle suite of software that brings full autonomy to a vehicle in a way that is agnostic to both hardware and environment. Caesium is a cloud-based autonomy management system that brings fine-grained control, audit, data management and monitoring to autonomous fleets.

Oxbotica’s products use an advanced set of AI, machine learning and optimisation technologies to yield a low-power, safe, explainable, quick-to-deploy, modular and completely flexible “Universal Autonomy” platform.

Ocado will build teams of engineers within its existing Advanced Technology division to work with Oxbotica on these diverse use cases. The Advanced Technology division is independent from the engineering team that develops core OSP software and automation. The initial development work will focus on UK operations, and will then extend to international markets where Ocado’s partners operate.

The agreement will see Ocado invest £10m in Oxbotica as part of Oxbotica’s latest Series B equity funding round. The round was led by bp ventures, and included other strategic and financial investors in the U.S., the U.K., China and Australia.

Ocado will outfit a subset of its delivery vans and warehouse vehicles with data capture capabilities, which may include video cameras, LiDAR, RADAR and other sensing devices and will then make this data available to Oxbotica to train and test its technologies, which will then inform Ocado as to what opportunities exist and where best it might take advantage of these exciting new partnerships.

Logistics costs constitute the single-largest line item in the operating cost structure of online grocery, but beyond potential cost savings within its core operations, Ocado said that it could see significant opportunities to improve its partners’ customer proposition by being better able to respond to peak delivery demands, reducing the cost-to-serve of its immediacy proposition, and accelerating the shift to electrically-powered vehicles.

Author
Neil Tyler

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