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Ocado is investing £10m in a self-driving vehicle start-up as it seeks to build its own autonomous vans.
The company first started working with Oxbotica in 2017 when it launched a two-week trial for grocery delivery in London.
Ocado hopes to use some of the technology and software to eventually power self-driving vehicles in and around its depots, and even have robots drop off shopping in people’s homes.
It said that early prototypes were expected within two years and the ultimate goal was to offer it to other major grocers around the world to reduce the costs of logistics.
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The race to use delivery robots for groceries on a larger scale is heating up.
Retailers such as the Co-op have been testing them with a goal of using 300 of the robots by the end of the year.
Several Tesco and Budgens stores in Milton Keynes also offer Starship deliveries. The rival firm was launched in 2014 by two Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis.
Ocado has been selling its robotic warehouses to traditional supermarkets to help them boost their e-commerce sales.
It has invested in a string of start-ups over the years, including a vertical farm company and a robotic “chef” firm.
Oxbotica, set up by two Oxford University academics in 2014, was the first firm in the UK to test self-driving vehicles on public roads.
“By combining both companies’ knowledge and resources, we hope to bring our vision to life and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex autonomy challenges,” said Oxbotica’s technology chief Paul Newman.
Some of Ocado’s delivery vans and other warehouse vehicles will be kitted out with video cameras and other devices to collect data that will allow the start-up to go ahead with the prototypes.
Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital, said: “There is no indication as to whether this investment will make a positive return for Ocado’s shareholders, albeit that is not wholly unusual when it comes to investments by the firm.”
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