By Elisabeth Campbell

Kroger Grocery Store Chain is Testing Self-Driving Delivery Cars

Along with the concept of flying cars, self-driving cars, in the past, have been seen as the cars of the distant future. Recently, however, they are looking more and more like the cars of the immediate future. Some vehicles already have some self-driving features to aid drivers, and this is seemingly one step away from fully self-automated cars. It is gradually becoming more accepted that self-driving cars can be safe, will prevent auto accidents, and will be part of the near future of driving.

Driverless Supermarket Delivery Vehicles

Now the grocery store industry is wanting a piece of the action. Kroger is looking to put self-driving delivery cars on the road by the end of the year. The customers will order their groceries online or using the mobile app. The store will then receive the order and put the items in the self-driving car. Then, the car will be sent to the customer’s home where the customer will unload the items.

This is an added level of customer service and convenience, as well as consumer protection from the nation’s largest supermarket chain. The stores already offer store pickup of grocery orders or home delivery by a driver in select locations. Using self-driving cars is an effort to make things even more convenient and cost-effective.

However, there will be concerns about safety. Many people are simply not comfortable with driverless cars on the road. They are concerned that a minor glitch in the system could result in vehicle collisions with tragic consequences. While driverless cars have many safety features and are advanced machines, it is also true that glitches and accidents can happen.

Safety of Self-driving Cars

In March 2018, a tragic accident occurred when a woman was killed by an automated vehicle. This vehicle did have an operator inside, but was operating autonomously at the time of the accident. While it is certainly a sad event and not one to be taken lightly, it was big news when it happened, mainly because it was the only accident of its kind that has happened so far. Developers are also taking this accident very seriously and analyzing it to find ways to prevent similar accidents in the future.

Self-driving cars do have some advantages over human drivers. People often have a lot on their mind when driving. They may be sleepy, distracted, worried, or otherwise compromised. These emotions and stresses can greatly affect safety when driving. Many accidents happen because of a driver’s road rage or falling asleep at the wheel. Computers do not have these problems. Computers will never be sleepy or distracted. They can also have sensors surrounding the entire vehicle. This basically gives the car a 360-degree vision, whereas drivers only have their eyes facing forward, mirrors, and maybe a couple cameras in some vehicles.

As the technology develops, it is becoming increasingly clear that self-driving cars have the potential to be safer than human drivers. However, that potential has not yet been reached. There have not been enough tests to conclusively determine if self-driving cars are safer than human drivers yet. From the results that have been gathered, it seems that human drivers are still safer. These results, though, have one major glitch in them – most of the accidents in which self-driving vehicles were involved were the fault of the other driver-the human driver.

Self-driving cars often get rear-ended because they follow the letter of the law, unlike many human drivers. This catches many human drivers off guard. For instance, when a stop light is red, and a driver wants to turn right, the law says to stop, and if it is clear, to turn. Many human drivers simply slow down if there is no one coming and proceed to turn without coming to a full stop. Many drivers on the road are conditioned to this behavior and expect the other vehicles on the road to do this, so when a driverless car comes to a complete stop, the human driver will rear-end the driverless car. This type of accident and similar ones is what makes the statistics against driverless cars appear worse than they probably should appear.

The statistics still are true, though, that self-driving cars are involved in more accidents than human drivers. This kind of result begs the question of what will be considered “safe enough” for self-driving vehicles to be released onto the road. The Conversation has an opinion on this that many people are likely to share.

What is “Safe Enough”?

Although the technology is apparently soon coming such that self-driving cars are statistically safer than human drivers, that is not going to be enough for most drivers to turn the wheel over to a driving robot. The Conversation gives the example of a company developing a new medicine and preparing to release it to consumers. For people to trust and switch to a new medicine, it must be significantly better than the current product. Similarly, self-driving cars must be tested and shown to be significantly safer than human drivers for many people to feel safe enough to give up control of the vehicle.

Back to Grocery Delivery

Is the world ready for Kroger’s self-driving delivery service? That depends on two factors: Is the technology ready and is the public ready?

Since the large majority of accidents are caused by other drivers, it seems that the technology is at least close to ready. Kroger has simply projected that this service will begin to be available in some areas by the end of the year. That does not mean that it will happen by then, and of course, it won’t if it is still determined to be unsafe. This is the first service of its kind and will take a long time to perfect. Kroger and its partners will undoubtedly have a lot of glitches to fix that they simply cannot predict until the service is in action. That being said, it seems that the technology that will lay the groundwork for this service is ready.

Of course, not everyone will ever be comfortable with driverless cars, but with safety being the top concern among consumers, Kroger is at an advantage. Again, since the large majority of accidents in which self-driving cars are involved are caused by human drivers, the worry of being hit by a driverless car is greatly reduced. The only thing traveling inside the driverless car will be groceries. There will be no people at risk inside these vehicles. These cars are also to be very small, so this will cause less damage and hopefully less injury in the event of an accident. In other words, for those more confident in their own driving ability than a computer’s, there is less added risk on the roads than at first may be perceived.

As a way to get people used to driverless cars on the road, this seems to be as gentle as possible. As a way to deliver groceries, this shows great innovation. As long as Kroger and its associates continue to take time to develop the technology and safety properly, this move should be looked back upon as a positive major step for both the driverless car and grocery industries.


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The Big Think, Inc.

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