author: Eric Walz
Ford Motor Company, its autonomous driving technology partner Argo AI and retailer Walmart are teaming on autonomous delivery service using Ford vehicles outfitted for autonomous driving by Argo AI. The service will initially launch in three U.S. cities, Miami, Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
It will be Walmart’s first multi-city autonomous delivery collaboration in the U.S. The self-driving vehicles will deliver Walmart orders to customers. The vehicles will have safety drivers onboard to monitor the trip, but the ultimate goal is that the vehicles will eventually operate without humans onboard.
“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,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile delivery, Walmart U.S.
Ford has been working with Walmart for the past several years on a pilot program delivering groceries for the world’s largest retailer. In Nov 2018, Ford and delivery company Postmates set up a pilot program to explore how self-driving vehicles can complement Walmart’s existing delivery services. Now the three companies are collaborating to scale the technology.
“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, Argo AI. “Working together with Walmart and Ford across three markets, we’re showing the potential for autonomous vehicle delivery services at scale.”
Ford brings its manufacturing capabilities to the collaboration and is able to integrate Argo AI’s autonomous driving technology into vehicles at scale.
Brick and mortar Retailers like Walmart are looking for new ways to meet customer expectations and better compete with e-commerce giant Amazon, especially in the era of on-demand services like ride-hailing and food delivery. The autonomous delivery service will enable Walmart customers to place orders of groceries online and an autonomous delivery vehicle will bring the order directly to their home.
Initially the service will be available for Walmart customers within a defined service area of the three cities. However, the companies will expand the service to other areas over time and eventually to other major cities. Initial integration testing slated to begin later this year, according to Ford.
“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.”
Pittsburgh-based Argo AI’s cloud-based infrastructure is designed to work seamlessly with business operations of its partners. Argo AI’s technology platform will integrate with Walmart’s online ordering system to route orders and schedule packages delivered directly to customer homes.
In July, Ford announced a separate partnership in Florida with ride-hailing company Lyft. Ford and Argo AI plan to deploy self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network by the end of the year.
It will be the first industry collaboration between a tech company, automaker, and a ride-hailing company. Passenger pickups in self-driving vehicles are planned for Miami later this year and in Austin, TX starting in 2022.
Ford’s partner Argo AI is also developing autonomous driving technology for automaker Volkswagen in one of the biggest collaborations in the auto industry for the development of self-driving cars. In June 2020, Volkswagen closed on a $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI.
Argo AI was once a relatively unknown Pittsburgh-based autonomous driving and robotics startup. In Feb, 2017, Ford invested a $1 billion to acquire a majority stake in the company in order to jumpstart its own autonomous driving development.
Ford’s investment in Argo AI is another example of a legacy automaker forming an alliance with a tech startup to jumpstart the development of autonomous driving technology, as automakers race to be the first to deploy autonomous vehicles at scale.
Now Ford’s massive investment is beginning to pay off as the automaker inches closer to commercializing autonomous driving technology with partners like Walmart.