Walmart has partnered with robotics startup Nuro to test autonomous grocery delivery in Houston. The service uses R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carried only products with no onboard driver or passengers, and autonomous Toyota Priuses, all powered by Nuro’s proprietary self-driving software and hardware.
Walmart said the service will be available in the coming months for a select group of Houston customers who opt into the test program. The service plans to expand to the general public later in 2020.
“We are testing Nuro’s vision of using robotics to improve lives that runs parallel with Walmart’s mission of helping customers live better. Through the Houston-based pilot, Walmart aims to develop, refine and continue learning how to offer the best end-to-end customer experience,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of digital operations for Walmart U.S.
“Walmart is committed to delivering groceries – with a side of time-saving convenience – through our ever-expanding Grocery Pickup and Delivery service,” he said.
As the end of 2019 approaches, Walmart has grown its online grocery footprint to nearly 3,100 pickup locations with deliveries coming from more than 1,600 stores – all of which are powered by Walmart’s team of over 50,000 personal shoppers.
“Our unparalleled size and scale have allowed us to steer grocery delivery to the front doors of millions of families – and design a roadmap for the future of the industry. Along the way, we’ve been test-driving a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to our customers’ front doors through self-driving technology,” Ward said.
He said the Nuro technology is a natural extension of Walmart’s online grocery business and the retail giant’s goal of making every day a little easier for customers.
He said by continuing to test autonomous vehicle capabilities, the retailer is better able to understand the path self-driving technology can take it down the road.
Nuro executive Cosimo Leipold said Walmart’s dedication to customers aligns as each company aims to save people time and money.
“We are excited to join forces with Walmart to help provide the best possible delivery experience to customers,” Leipold said. “Working alongside Walmart gives us an incredible opportunity to improve our door-to-door operations, serve Walmart’s loyal customers, and continue to integrate and engage with the Houston community.”
Houston is a challenging market for Walmart as H-E-B is a strong competitor with expansions of Aldi as well across this large metro area. Walmart’s grocery delivery programs have played second fiddle to its online grocery pickup, but the retailer has said it will continue to test delivery with various partners and by using its own internal team.
Former Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran said recently Walmart is using a patchwork approach to reach across its expansive footprint. He said there are numerous tests underway for delivery and the retailer is learning a great deal in the process.
Earlier this year, Walmart began using autonomous vehicles in Bentonville to deliver online grocery orders picked in a store to the customer pickup location a couple of miles away. In January Walmart also began testing autonomous grocery delivery in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise, Arizona with Udelv.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Nuro is also working with Dominos and Walmart competitor Kroger on delivery technology.