Walmart, Ford and Argo AI to launch autonomous delivery service in three U.S. cities

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 761 views 

Walmart is testing self-driving Ford vehicles equipped with Argo AI technology in Austin, Miami and Washington D.C. for grocery delivery. (courtesy photo from Argo AI)

Walmart is expanding its use of autonomous vehicles for customer deliveries in a partnership with Ford and technology platform Argo AI in Austin, Texas, Miami and Washington, D.C. This is in addition to an ongoing pilot with Gatik in its home base of Bentonville and in Metairie, La.

The new Ford-Argo AI pilot is the first multi-city collaboration in the U.S for Walmart’s use of autonomous final mile delivery services for its online business. The pilot will use Ford self-driving test vehicles equipped with Argo AI self-driving systems. Argo’s cloud-based infrastructure will integrate with Walmart’s online ordering platform to route orders and schedule package deliveries to customers’ homes.

“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 Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI. “Working together with Walmart and Ford across three markets, we’re showing the potential for autonomous vehicle delivery services at scale.”

The partners said the collaboration brings together a self-driving technology provider with an automotive manufacturer able to integrate that technology with vehicles at scale, plus the world’s largest retailer. The multi-city service will enable Walmart customers to place orders of groceries and other items online for door-to-door autonomous delivery directly to customers’ homes.

“We’re excited to expand our autonomous delivery efforts in three new markets alongside Argo and Ford,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile delivery, Walmart U.S. “This collaboration will further our mission to get products to the homes of our customers with unparalleled speed and ease, and in turn, will continue to pave the way for autonomous delivery.”

The service will be available to Walmart customers within defined service areas of the three markets and will expand, with initial integration testing slated to begin later this year. As consumer expectations continue to shift to next-day or same-day delivery – especially in the urban core where there is a higher concentration of deliveries – the collaboration will help understand how autonomous technology interacts with cusotomers while optimizing logistics and operations.

“Argo and Ford are aggressively preparing for large-scale autonomous vehicle operations across a broad footprint of U.S. cities,” said Scott Griffith, CEO, Ford Autonomous Vehicles & Mobility Businesses. “Pairing Walmart’s retail and e-commerce leadership with Argo and Ford’s self-driving operations across these multiple cities marks a significant step toward scaling a commercial goods delivery service that will ultimately power first-to-scale business efficiencies and enable a great consumer experience.”

In addition to testing self-driving technology in Pittsburgh, Detroit and Palo Alto, Calif., Argo and Ford have operated in Miami and Washington, D.C., since 2018 and in Austin since 2019, to build autonomous ride-hailing and delivery services. They have also worked on commercial fleet management capabilities, including fueling, servicing, and cleaning of self-driving vehicles, to support customers and keep fleets running. Walmart previously tested with Ford in Miami in 2018.

Also this year, Walmart launched a 20-mile route with Gatik self-driving temperature controlled trucks between New Orleans and Metairie, La. Walmart said the new Gatik pilot could benefit customers who live further away from the store in New Orleans to benefit from the convenience and ease of Walmart’s pickup service.

Also in 2021 Walmart invested an undisclosed amount in Cruise LLC, the autonomous vehicle technology company owned by General Motors. The investment in Cruise was seen as a way to help support Walmart’s push to create a home-delivery logistics network that’s “fast, low-cost and scalable,” said Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner. The two companies began working together in November 2020 through a delivery pilot program in Arizona. Walmart said the new deals won’t spell the end for the self-driving car tests it’s conducting with Waymo, the autonomous unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., and startup Nuro.

Efforts to develop self-driving vehicles have gained momentum. California has approved more robotaxi testing on public roads, granting its first commercial permit for autonomous-vehicle deliveries in March to Nuro.

The partnerships come as online delivery demand continues to grow primarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walmart also uses third party final mile driver services like DoorDash in some markets like Northwest Arkansas and Dallas, as well as expanding its own Spark delivery service drivers. DoorDash recently reported many of its drivers pass over Walmart orders when driving because of the heavy lifting and lower pay compared to restaurant orders.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said last week Walmart is also excited about adding more drone deliveries in the coming weeks which offer efficiency and lower costs for final-mile solutions in remote areas as well as traffic congested cities. He said retail is changing and consumers are giving up more privacy for added convenience and he expects in-home or in-garage deliveries will also continue to increase over the next two to three years.