Udelv, a self-driving delivery startup, announced that it was teaming up with Walmart to pilot an autonomous grocery delivery service. The Burlingame, California-based company said it was also partnering with Baidu to pilot the Chinese search giant’s latest autonomous driving open platform, Apollo 3.5.
It’s the latest in a series of announcements centered on the use of autonomous vehicles in last-mile delivery scenarios, underscoring a core truth about the future: it’s risky to put human passengers in robot vehicles, but it’s much less risky to put groceries and Amazon packages in them.
A less risky application for AVs
Udelv has been using its fleet of autonomous vans to test grocery delivery with a variety of food markets. Last year, the startup signed a deal to supply Oklahoma City’s largest grocery chain with self-driving vehicles. Previously, the company’s bright orange vans were delivering groceries for the high-end Draeger’s Market chain in the Bay Area city of San Mateo. Udelv said it has completed 1,200 deliveries, and it says it will deliver up to 100 autonomous vans to customers in 2019.
Udelv is also releasing its second-generation delivery vehicle, the Newton, following months of “close collaboration” between the startup and Baidu, the Google of China. Launched in 2017, Baidu’s Apollo project encompasses both hardware and software, providing partners with the tech and open-source code needed to help their own vehicles perceive obstacles, plan their routes, and otherwise move around our world.
Udelv isn’t the only company that’s thinking about how to combine the lucrative grocery delivery industry with self-driving cars. Online grocery shopping could grow five-fold over the next decade, with American consumers spending upward of $100 billion on food-at-home items by 2025, according to a recent report.
Ford recently announced it also was partnering with Walmart as well as Postmates in an autonomous delivery pilot. GM’s Cruise is teaming up with DoorDash in San Francisco. Self-driving startup AutoX is delivering groceries in its small fleet of retrofitted Lincoln MKZ vehicles in San Jose. And Nuro, a company founded in 2016 by two veterans of Google’s original self-driving team, is teaming up with supermarket giant Kroger to deliver groceries to residents in Arizona.