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Ocado eyes driverless deliveries with £10 million investment in Oxford start-up

The online grocer is working with Oxbotica to look at 'last-mile deliveries and kerb-to-kitchen robots.'

Retail technology giant Ocado has said it will invest £10 million in driverless vehicle start-up Oxbotica and look at the potential for automated deliveries to customers.

Ocado announced in a stock market statement that it will look at the use of Oxbotica’s autonomous vehicle software for operations at its warehouse as well as “last-mile deliveries and kerb-to-kitchen robots”.

The cash injection comes as part of a £34 million Series B funding round, led by BP Ventures, in the Oxford-based firm.

Ocado said the partnership will see the two businesses collaborate to integrate Oxbotica’s autonomy software platform into a variety of vehicles that can be used by the FTSE-100 business.

It said it will build teams of engineers within its existing advanced technology division to work with Oxbotica on potential ways of using its software.

Paul Newman, co-founder and chief technology officer of Oxbotica, said: “This is an excellent opportunity for Oxbotica and Ocado to strengthen our partnership, sharing our vision for the future of autonomy.

“By combining both companies’ cutting-edge knowledge and resources, we hope to bring our universal autonomy vision to life and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex autonomy challenges.”

The move towards greater automation will not affect its current workforce or hiring plans, the company added.

The firm said a move towards increased automation could reduce its logistics costs and also make it better able to respond to peak delivery demands.

Ocado said it currently predicts that the development of vehicles to operate within restricted areas, such as at distribution sites, may “become a reality sooner than fully-autonomous deliveries to consumers’ homes”.

However, it said this will still be looked at within the scope of the partnership, with the first prototypes for the use of automated vehicles expected “within two years”.

The initial development work will focus on UK operations and will then extend to international markets where partners operate, Ocado told investors.

Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado, said: “We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners’ CFC (customer fulfilment centres) and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility.”

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