Walmart on Wednesday announced plans to launch a new delivery service using self-driving vehicles in three U.S. cities, with autonomous test vehicles expected to hit the streets later this year.
The world's largest retailer is partnering with Ford and Argo AI, an autonomous vehicle tech firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, to launch the driverless delivery services in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas. The group said it expects to expand to other markets over time, and initial integration testing of the vehicles to begin within months.
The partnership comes as demand for delivery goods has been accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as Americans' intrigue in self-driving technology continues to make headlines and propel forward the emerging technology.
"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," Tom Ward, senior vice president of last-mile delivery at Walmart U.S., said in a statement.
By working directly with Ford, Argo AI and Walmart will be able to implement the technology with vehicles at scale. As customer demand for next-day and same-day delivery in urban areas rises, both for groceries and other goods, the collaboration also will help the companies collect data on how customers respond to autonomous technology.
"Argo and Ford are aggressively preparing for large-scale autonomous vehicle operations across a broad footprint of U.S. cities," Scott Griffith, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles & Mobility Businesses, added in a statement. "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."
As e-commerce booms in the U.S., many retailers are facing increased pressure to speed up delivery times in order to compete with behemoths like Amazon that offer same-day delivery in many urban areas. Meanwhile, firms like Tesla and its eccentric CEO Elon Musk have pushed self-driving technology mainstream in recent years, but controversies and investigations have delayed the large-scale adoption of autonomous vehicles despite Musk's past timelines for it.
Earlier this year, pizza delivery giant Domino's announced it was partnering with autonomous driving firm Nuro to launch driverless pizza delivery out of a store in Houston. Late last year, Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo launched self-driving ride-hailing services in parts of Phoenix to the public after some two years of testing.