Kroger ends its unmanned-vehicle grocery delivery pilot program in Arizona

Supermarket giant Kroger said it soon will end a pilot program in which more than 2,000 grocery deliveries were made in self-driving vehicles from a store in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The program, launched last August, featured deliveries in autonomous vehicles from robotics company Nuro from the Kroger-owned Fry's store at 7770 E. McDowell Road for customers in ZIP code 85257.

The companies described it as the nation's first program featuring deliveries to the general public from fully unmanned vehicles.

Wednesday will mark the final day of deliveries. After that, customers who participated in the Scottsdale pilot will switch over to an existing grocery-delivery service provided by Kroger in partnership with another company, Instacart.

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The Instacart service doesn't feature self-driving vehicles. Another difference is that instacart's staff, rather than Fry's associates, will select and deliver groceries.

But Scottsdale customers who received groceries during the Nuro pilot will continue to pay the same $5.95 delivery fee for a full year.

The purpose of the venture with Nuro was to test deliveries in self-driving vehicles in Scottsdale, then expand the program to a larger metropolitan area. The program started with modified Toyota Prius models, then added Nuro's own custom vehicle called the R1.

"During this pilot, it was learned that we can deliver a service that our customers love — providing convenience and fresh groceries for our customers safely in the communities," said Pam Giannonatti, a spokeswoman for Kroger, which owns the Fry's chain.

"This engagement shows the immense appetite for affordable, safe and convenient delivery options," she added, calling the customer response in Scottsdale "phenomenal."

The companies now will start the next phase of the program — an autonomous-vehicle delivery service at two Kroger stores in Houston that will reach customers in four ZIP codes there.

As in Scottsdale, Kroger and Nuro will begin the service with Nuro’s self-driving Toyota Prius fleet, then introduce a new generation of driverless vehicles later this year.

Nuro will continue to have a presence in Arizona, at a Scottsdale office, focusing on software testing, mapping and training with a staff of more than 50 employees and contractors, said Emma Esrock, a Nuro spokeswoman.

"This shift in focus will allow us to continue improving our technology so that we can expand our reach even more quickly," she said.

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