Ford and Walmart are teaming to launch a robo-delivery service in three US cities, using autonomous test vehicles equipped with sensors and software developed by Argo AI. Customers who live in Miami, Austin, and Washington, DC, who order items from Walmart online and live within a specific geographic area may be eligible to have their items delivered by a Ford / Argo vehicle.
The companies plan on kicking off “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 been experimenting with robo-delivery for a number of years now. In 2018, it announced a grocery delivery pilot with Walmart and Postmates. The automaker also helped Domino’s deliver pizza using its autonomous vehicles.
There are still a lot of hurdles to work out. The vehicles will require human monitors, both behind the wheel as well as from remote command centers, so any potential labor savings would still be years away. Customers would have to retrieve their deliveries from the vehicles, which could pose problems for elderly and disabled customers as well as people who live in apartment buildings and are accustomed to delivery workers bringing their orders to their door.
Ford isn’t the only company that’s trying to work through these challenges. Cruise, which is backed by General Motors, has its own pilot project with Walmart in Arizona. In fact, the retail giant is hedging its bets by forging nonexclusive partnerships with a wide range of AV operators, including Nuro, Udelv, and Waymo.
Delivery is just one aspect of Ford’s plan to commercialize autonomous vehicles. The automaker recently announced it was partnering with Lyft to deploy robotaxis in the same three cities before the end of the year.
In addition to Austin, Miami, and DC, Ford and Argo have been testing their fourth-generation vehicles in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and California. Argo is also preparing to launch an autonomous micro-transit and delivery service with VW in Germany, using its fifth-generation autonomous technology, starting in 2025. The AV company is rumored to be mulling an initial public offering at a $12.4 billion valuation.