The pilot will see Ford Escapade hybrids using Argo AI technology to autonomously deliver Walmart products to customers’ homes in Miami, the District of Columbia, and Austin, the companies said in a joint statement on Sept. 15.
“We’re excited to expand our autonomous delivery efforts in three new markets alongside Argo and Ford,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of Last Mile Delivery at Walmart U.S., said in a statement. “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.”
Testing is slated to begin later this year, with the companies hoping to fine-tune ways in which autonomous driving technology can optimize logistics and operations and provide value to customers.
“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,” Scott Griffith, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Businesses, said in a statement.
The move is part of Walmart’s broader strategy to evaluate the role autonomous vehicles can play in retail. In April, Walmart expanded its collaboration with Cruise, a San Francisco-based self-driving car company, which the retail giant started working with last year on a delivery pilot in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Over the years we’ve been doing a lot to learn more about the role autonomous vehicles can play in retail, and we’ve seen enough to know it’s no longer a question of if they’ll be scaled, but when,” said John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., in an April 15 statement, in which he announced that Walmart would make an investment in Cruise that he said would “aid our work toward developing a last mile delivery ecosystem that’s fast, low-cost and scalable.”
The newly announced pilot will also boost efforts on the part of Ford and Argo to deploy self-driving vehicles more broadly across the United States.
“Argo and Ford are aggressively preparing for large-scale autonomous vehicle operations across a broad footprint of U.S. cities,” Griffith said.
Bryan Salesky, co-founder and CEO of Argo AI, told The Verge in an August interview that the pandemic-driven shift in customer behavior has strengthened the case for widespread adoption of autonomous delivery solutions.
“On the goods delivery front we’ve seen a huge uptick in change in customer habits that we knew was happening, but it seems like COVID just really accelerated it,” Salesky told the outlet. “It’s kind of now an expectation among customers that there’s a delivery option for most retail businesses. We knew that was always the case. But it just seems like all of this has been accelerated.”
Salesky said Argo’s product is essentially software that runs on a specialized computer installed in the vehicle and that interacts with a series of sensors to deliver what he described as a “safety proposition.”
“The advantage with self-driving tech is that our software stack can reason about literally thousands of objects at the same time, and be tracking each individual bike, pedestrian, and car that’s in a busy surface street, and be able to extrapolate not just what are they doing now, but what are they going to be doing several seconds in the future,” Salesky said.
“It doesn’t get tired, it doesn’t get distracted, it’s always learning and improving. And this is where the safety proposition comes from.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that automated vehicles have the potential to save lives and reduce injuries, citing statistics that 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error.