California Grocer Tests Delivery via Robots

Save Mart will use Starship Technologies’ autonomous shuttles to cover the last mile to homes.

October 05, 2020

MODESTO, Calif.—The Save Mart Companies, the largest family-owned grocer in California, is the first U.S. supermarket chain to launch on-demand delivery using Starship Technologies’ autonomous robot shuttles, the company announced last week.

The autonomous delivery service will be available through Save Mart’s flagship Modesto store, which the company uses as an innovation lab. Shoppers can access the Starship – Food Delivery app to order groceries and schedule delivery. Once an order is submitted, Save Mart team members wearing required masks and gloves gather delivery items and carefully place in the clean robot. Every robot’s interior and exterior is sanitized before each order. Shoppers can then watch, via an interactive map, as the robot makes its journey from the store to them. Once the robot arrives, they receive an alert, and then meet and unlock it through the app.

“We are proud to debut this innovative service in our hometown of Modesto,” said Jerald Smith, store director, Save Mart flagship. “Through our partnership with Starship Technologies, Save Mart is pleased to offer our community an added solution for efficient, safe, and healthy grocery shopping.” Save Mart operates more than 200 stores across California and Nevada.

San Francisco-based Starship Technologies’ robots can carry as much as 20 pounds of groceries, or about three shopping bags, and can travel up to four miles roundtrip.

“With the onset of the pandemic, our service became increasingly important to thousands of residents in communities across the U.S.,” said Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president, business development, at Starship Technologies. “Save Mart is a loved brand that has deep ties to its local communities, which is why we’re especially excited about this partnership. Working together with Save Mart, we are able to provide a safe, convenient and well-priced delivery option for tens of thousands of residents.”

Starship Technologies said its robots have completed more than 500,000 autonomous deliveries and crossed more than five million streets. The robots move at pedestrian speed and use a combination of sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. The computer vision-based navigation helps the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch. The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night and operate in both rain and snow. A team of humans can also monitor their progress remotely and can take control at a moment’s notice.

Starship robot delivery shuttles have been tested on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, the University of Arkansas, Northern Arizona University’s Flagstaff campus and the University of Pittsburgh, among others. Earlier this year, the shuttles could be spotted in Washington, D.C. making deliveries for Broad Branch Market. In the United Kingdom, Starship Technologies’ robots are ferrying groceries to residents of Milton Keynes and customers of Co-op.

Read more in “Robots Deliver" in the September 2020 issue of NACS Magazine.