Ford and Walmart partner up to launch a robot delivery service in three U.S. cities, using autonomous test vehicles equipped with sensors and software developed by Argo AI. Clients who live in Miami, Austin and Washington DC who order Walmart products online. And living within a specific geographic area may be eligible to have their items delivered by a Ford or Argo vehicle.
The companies plan to launch “integration testing” for the delivery service this year, with plans to expand the geographic areas over time. Autonomous delivery is seen as a potentially lucrative market, with online grocery shopping growing fivefold over the next decade and American consumers spending upward of $100 billion on food-at-home items by 2025, according to a recent report.
Ford has experienced automated delivery for several years. In 2018, it announced a food delivery pilot project with Walmart and colleagues. They also helped Domino’s deliver pizza with their autonomous vehicles.
There are still a lot of hurdles to cross. Vehicles will need human instructors, both behind the wheel and remote control centers, so any potential labour savings would be years away. Customers would have to retrieve their deliveries from the vehicles, which could pose problems for elderly and disabled customers. So are people who live in apartment buildings and are accustomed to delivery workers taking their orders to their door.
Ford is not alone in addressing these challenges. Cruise, which is supported by General Motors, has a pilot project with Walmart in Arizona. In fact, the retail giant is hedging its bets by forging non-exclusive partnerships with a wide range of audiovisual operators, including Nuro, Udelv and Waymo.
Delivery is only one aspect of Ford’s plan for self-driving vehicle marketing. The company recently announced its partnership with Lyft to roll out robotaxis in the same three cities before the end of the year.
Apart from Austin, Miami and DC, Ford and Argo tested their fourth-generation vehicles in Pittsburgh, Detroit and California. Argo is also getting ready to launch an autonomous micro-transit and delivery service with VW in Germany, using its fifth generation autonomous technology, from 2025. Rumour has it that AV would make a first public bid at $12.4 billion.