Our options for how we get our groceries have expanded dramatically in the last couple of years — especially during the pandemic — and it’s only just the beginning. Last week, Albertsons announced the grocery chain has partnered with Tortoise, an automatic logistics startup focused on last-mile solutions (read: how stuff gets to your doorstep), to test remote-controlled delivery carts. The carts are currently being tested in two Safeway stores in Tracy and Windsor, California, and each store is operating two vehicles.
The battery-powered carts are equipped with a camera and speaker, and they’re guided through the neighborhood (from store to door) by a remote operator. During the test, a human escort will accompany the vehicle, which can hold up to 120 pounds of groceries in four lockable containers. The cart travels at three miles per hour and can zip around a three-mile range.
When the cart arrives at a customer’s home, the customer receives a text message to meet the delivery cart outside and pick up their order.
Albertsons’ pilot is the latest launch among grocers turning to technology to test new methods of contactless delivery. Other grocers like Kroger and Walmart are experimenting with delivery robots and autonomous delivery as well. Unlike competitors like Nuro and Refraction AI, which produce delivery vehicles that operate on their own, Tortoise is remote-control operated by a human.
Tortoise was originally an electric scooter company, but pivoted into the grocery delivery space during the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, the company focused on specialty and neighborhood stores, but now it aims to work with five of the 10 largest U.S. grocery chains by the end of 2021, the company told Grocery Dive.
Tortoise is also working to advance its technology to be mechanically unloaded for unattended deliveries. This means Tortoise would deliver temperature-controlled storage bins to customers’ homes. They expect the technology to be ready to deploy within the second half of 2021.