Driverless Grocery Delivery in Phoenix Could Start This Fall

Is Phoenix the site of a new grocery-delivery project with retail giant Kroger? It appears so.
Is Phoenix the site of a new grocery-delivery project with retail giant Kroger? It appears so. Nuro
Need a job?

Work well with robots?

Nuro, a California driverless vehicle company, is looking for someone to run its first-ever delivery service in Phoenix.

"You will be the go-to-person on the ground as we launch our first satellite office/city," Nuro says in a help wanted posting on its website.

As "city manager," you'd manage a fleet of vehicles that have no seats for humans yet will supposedly negotiate the roadways with human motorists without creating snarls and pileups. No pressure there, right?

Nuro's also looking for a fleet technician and shift manager, who'll also be based in Phoenix.

It seems that the job offerings are part of a driverless grocery delivery plan by Nuro and retail giant Kroger. Neither company will confirm that Phoenix will be the site of the pilot program.

Brandon Brown of the Phoenix Business Journal put together the clues for a July 27 article (which is behind a paywall). A few news outlets in Cincinnati, where Kroger is based, have followed his lead over the past few days.

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Nuro plans to soon begin testing of its autonomous transport vehicles on Arizona roads, the company told the state in April.
"Psst... Will Kroger's first driverless deliveries be here?" ran the headline of a Cincinnati Enquirer article on Monday, with "here" meaning Phoenix.

The facts: Kroger announced on June 28 that it had partnered with California firm Nuro to "redefine the grocery customer experience for Americans by piloting an on-road, fully autonomous delivery experience."

"Through this innovative partnership," Kroger said at the time, "customers can place same-day delivery orders through Kroger's ClickList ordering system and Nuro's app. During the test, orders will be delivered by Nuro's fleet of autonomous vehicles... This is the first application and deployment of Nuro's hardware and software. The pilot market will be announced soon and is expected to begin this fall."

Neither company has said where the initial program would be located. But as Brown pointed out in his article last week, Nuro is now advertising the above three, important-sounding jobs for the Phoenix area. None of its other jobs seem to be for locations other than Nuro's headquarters in Mountain View, California. The posting for Nuro's city manager is actually about two months old, though — is Nuro having trouble finding qualified candidates who live, or want to live, in metro Phoenix? The company won't say.

As Phoenix New Times was the first to report in early May, Nuro filed with the state to register its intent to put fully driverless vehicles on the road. a certification with the state. The filings are now required for vehicles with no backup drivers because of a March 1 executive order by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

As of early August, Nuro and Google-affiliated Waymo remain the only two companies to have made such filings, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. Waymo, which has been testing on public roads in metro Phoenix over the past year, (though mostly with backup drivers in its vehicles), says it will launch a fully driverless ride-hailing service in metro Phoenix by the end of the year.

Nuro has an email for press inquiries on its website; the company failed to acknowledge emails requesting comment in May and on Thursday.

Maybe Nuro and Kroger are trying to throw the media off, and just making it look like the initial site will be Phoenix, when it really will be Cincinnati or Albuquerque.

But it's also possible that in a few months, if you don't like autonomous vehicles, you won't like Phoenix.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.