7-Eleven says it has owned and defined convenience since its founding in 1927. Now the Irving-headquartered chain is staking its claim on the future of convenience: autonomous delivery.
The convenience store giant is teaming up with robotics company Nuro to pilot an autonomous delivery service in Mountain View, California. The companies say it’s the first autonomous commercial delivery service in the state—Nuro was the first autonomous vehicle company to receive a deployment permit from the California DMV in December 2020.
7-Eleven’s first foray into autonomous delivery was in 2016, when it became the first U.S. retailer to make a drone delivery to a customer’s house, according to Raghu Mahadevan, 7-Eleven’s chief digital officer. “Since then, we haven’t stopped looking for ways to redefine convenience for our customers inside and outside the four walls of our stores,” he said in a statement.
In 2017, 7-Eleven launched its 7NOW Delivery app across the U.S. to offer customers 30-minute delivery and real-time tracking on orders.
“Fast forward to 2021, and we’re pushing the boundaries of innovation even further to provide customers with the first commercial autonomous delivery service in California,” Mahadevan said. “I can’t wait to see where we go from here.”
How it works
7-Eleven is using its 7NOW delivery app for the autonomous delivery pilot.
Once downloaded—on Google Play, the Apple App Store, or 7NOW.com—customers in Mountain View can shop and add items to their cart. During checkout, the autonomous delivery option will be available for selection from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT daily at no additional charge.
Everything from pizza and chips to soda and household necessities will then be delivered to the customer’s house. However, things with an age restriction (like alcohol, tobacco, and lottery tickets) won’t be eligible for autonomous delivery.
Autonomous Priuses now, R2 bots later
7-Eleven will send updates as the order is processed and delivered. All vehicles travel with an operator in the driver seat to monitor the technology as it’s introduced. Once the robotic vehicle arrives, customers can simply grab their items from the back.
Users will want to be on the lookout for a robotic Prius. Nuro is starting the service with its autonomous Priuses, with plans to introduce autonomous robots (as seen at left in the photo above) at a later date.
Nuro’s R2 bots are custom-built to transport goods without any occupants in the vehicle.
“Residents in the state of California—a major hub of innovation—have never been able to experience the commercial delivery of goods by an autonomous vehicle. Nuro is teaming up with 7-Eleven to change that,” Jiajun Zhu, Nuro’s CEO and co-founder, said in a statement. “We’ve always wanted to bring Nuro’s autonomous delivery to our local community and to our neighbors.”
Nuro has Texas ties
Nuro, which is headquartered in Mountain View, aims to use robotics to change everyday life for the better. Its customized autonomous delivery vehicles are designed to transform local commerce by allowing retail brands an eco-friendly way to get goods to customers.
The goal is to make streets safer and cities more livable.
So far, Nuro has brought autonomous delivery to communities in Texas, Arizona, and California.
In 2019, Nuro started piloting its autonomous Priuses in Houston. Now, the company has partnerships with Kroger, CVS Pharmacy, and Domino’s in the city.
The R2 delivers Domino’s Pizza to select doors in suburban Woodland Heights, according to the Houston Chronicle. Kroger originally began its partnership with Nuro in 2018 to explore grocery delivery. Nuro also recently announced a multi-year partnership with FedEx.
Nuro announced a $600M raise in November
More tests could come soon. In November, the company announced that it had raised a $600 million Series D round led by Tiger Global Management. Additional participants included Google, Kroger, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, and Gaorong Capital.
The funding is meant for the development and deployment of the driverless delivery service in more communities across the U.S.
Google’s participation in the round coincides with a five-year partnership with Google Cloud to support Nuro’s ability to scale. The deal will also go toward “capacity required to run self-driving simulation workloads, machine learning to improve model accuracy, and storage to manage important data from the vehicles.”
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