AutoX is using its self-driving vehicles to deliver groceries

Autonomous vehicle startup AutoX has launched a grocery delivery and mobile store pilot in a partnership with and local high-end grocery store DeMartini Orchard.

The pilot will initially be limited to an area of about 400 homes in north San Jose. The company, which employees nearly 90 people, has just two autonomous vehicles that will be used for the initial launch. Eventually, AutoX aims to expand the pilot west to Mountain View and Palo Alto, with more delivery partners joining soon.

Once customers in the prescribed area have downloaded the app, they can make an order. For now, these orders must be placed the day before delivery. Or, when the AutoX car arrives, the window rolls down to reveal AutoX’s selections from which customers can choose.

The idea is to offer two shopping experiences with self-driving cars, AutoX COO Jewel Li explained in a statement. Customers can order goods from an app and get them delivered by a self-driving vehicle. Or the self-driving vehicle can bring a shelf of goods that customers can pick and choose from right outside their house.

Unlike many other startups racing to deploy autonomous vehicles, AutoX is focused on delivering things, not people.

“We don’t think it makes sense for people to drive around these two-ton vehicles to go pick up an apple,” AutoX director of business and operations Hugo Fozzati told TechCrunch, emphasizing that the unit economics of an autonomous vehicle that can make multiple deliveries within a single neighborhood is more favorable. “These errands are creating congestion and a ton of pollution. We want to focus on something that’s going to have a lot of impact.”

The company, which launched in September 2016, has raised $43 million from strategic and financial investors. AutoX is based in San Jose and also has offices in China.

Of course, AutoX is hardly the only autonomous vehicle delivery company to emerge in the past two years. Starship Technologies, Mountain View, Calif.-based NuroRobomart and Chinese retail powerhouse, Alibaba are just a few that have unveiled their own vision for autonomous delivery.

The pilot is the first step in AutoX founder and CEO Jianxiong Xiao’s mission to open up autonomous vehicles to everyone. It’s a goal the company contends can be reached using economical (and better) hardware. The company does use light detection and ranging radar, known as LiDAR. But instead of loading up its self-driving vehicles with numerous expensive LiDAR units, AutoX relies more on cameras, which it argues have better resolution. The company’s proprietary AI algorithms tie everything together.

“It’s the first step of our mission to democratize autonomy, also a testament to our cutting edge AI and all its potential capabilities,” Xiao said about the pilot program. “We believe self-driving car technologies will fundamentally change people’s daily lives for the better.”