Walmart products will soon be delivered by self-driving vehicles.
This week, Pittsburgh-based autonomous vehicle company Argo AI announced a new collaboration with Ford Motor Company and the multinational retail corporation to bring autonomous delivery services to Miami, Austin and DC.
A small number of Ford Escape Hybrid self-driving test vehicles outfitted with the Argo AI Self-Driving System will be tested during the pilot program, with safety operators still in the car in case of any issues. Walmart’s online ordering platform will work in conjunction with Argo AI’s cloud-based software infrastructure to coordinate deliveries. The initial rollout is set to begin later this year, and will only be available to customers within pre-defined service areas in each city.
“Our focus on the testing and development of self-driving technology that operates in urban areas where customer demand is high really comes to life with this collaboration,” said Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky in a statement. “Working together with Walmart and Ford across three markets, we’re showing the potential for autonomous vehicle delivery services at scale.”
This initiative comes after a productive summer for the company. A partnership with ride-hailing company Lyft announced in July could put Argo AI on the path to be the first autonomous vehicle firm to have commercially available cars for the public. And, earlier in the summer, reports indicated that the company is planning to go public by the end of the year.
“There are many different opportunities within the delivery vertical, from groceries to restaurant meals to small and large goods, so there’s likely going to be a variety of companies and vehicle types that will operate in this sector,” wrote Argo AI Senior Communications Manager Catherine Johnsmeyer in response to a question on competitor concerns.
The focus on deliveries of groceries or other items from a big box store like Walmart comes at a time of increased speculation about the use of human drivers in unrealistically speedy delivery promises from retailers like Amazon. For its part, the online seller developed small robots as a last mile delivery solution and bought one thousand self-driving trucks earlier this summer. While these solutions have yet to address long-distance delivery concerns, they signify a growing commitment from retail industry leaders to bring this technology to customers.
“Walmart, Argo and Ford have always shared the belief that there is a strong business opportunity for self-driving technology in goods delivery services, and Walmart is a demonstrated leader in adopting emerging technologies to meet growing consumer expectations,” wrote Johnsmeyer in an email, adding that Argo AI remains open to other future partners in ride-hailing and delivery services.
There are currently no plans to launch commercial delivery services through this new collaboration in Pittsburgh, she added, largely because the focus of the company’s offices here are in engineering and development. Still, Argo AI maintains its headquarters in Pittsburgh and has several open positions available across a variety of departments at the company.
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-