U.S. Retailer Walmart Partners with GM's Cruise on a Self-Driving Delivery Pilot in Arizona

U.S. Retailer Walmart Partners with GM's Cruise on a Self-Driving Delivery Pilot in Arizona

Author: Eric Walz   

U.S. retail giant Walmart Inc. is launching an autonomous delivery pilot with Cruise, the majority-owned autonomous driving subsidiary of automaker General Motors. The pilot program is set to begin early next year in Scottsdale, Arizona, Walmart announced on Tuesday.

As part of the pilot, customers can place an order from their local Walmart store and have it delivered, contact-free, via one of Cruise's fully-electric self-driving vehicles

The new pilot is Walmart's third with an autonomous vehicle developer in the past year. In August 2019, Walmart announced a pilot with Silicon Valley-based autonomous vehicle developer Gatix. In that program, Walmart and Gatik tested using driverless vans to transport goods in order to help Walmart to "learn more about the logistics of adding autonomous vehicles in our online grocery ecosystem," the retailer said.

The other pilot was with Silicon Valley-based company Nuru to deliver Walmart's online orders using small autonomous delivery vehicles. The pilot was being tested at a Houston, Texas Walmart store in Dec 2019.

In 2018, Walmart also worked with U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co in Florida on a similar autonomous grocery delivery service. The Florida pilot was designed to allow the two companies to study human interaction with seemingly driverless car delivering food, as the automaker explores the commercial viability of autonomous delivery technology in the future.

Cruise told Reuters in an email that the company is "laser-focused on making this first pilot successful with Walmart."

Cruise has been testing its self-driving vehicles for several years in San Francisco and plans to launch a commercial robotaxi service using a fleet of self-driving Chevy Bolt EVs supplied by GM and modified by Cruise for autonomous driving. In addition to robotaxis, Cruise has provided automated grocery delivery services to residents in San Francisco.

"Technology that has the potential to not only save customers time and money but also be helpful to the planet is technology we want to learn more about," wrote Tom Ward, SVP of Customer Product, Walmart U.S. in a blog post on Tuesday.

Cruise is backed by Honda Motor Co and Japan's SoftBank Group and T. Rowe Price. GM made a $1 billion equity investment in Cruise in Feb, 2016 in order to jumpstart its self-driving vehicles development. Since then, Cruise has been working on self-driving technology for GM for its future models.

In January, Cruise unveiled the Origin shuttle, an autonomous vehicle designed to carry passengers. The shuttle was designed and built by GM, Honda and Cruise for use in a commercial robotaxi service. It has no steering wheel or pedals and is fully autonomous.

Brick and mortar retailers like Walmart and Target are looking for ways to compete with online retailers such as Amazon, as foot traffic in malls and shopping centers has slowed around the country as more people do their shopping online during the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, as a result of the growing trend of online shopping, retailers are investing billions of dollars in autonomous delivery technology and other tech to make it easier and more convenient for customers to shop. 

Since March when the pandemic began, many major retailers have adapted their sales and service models. Many companies, including grocery stores, now offer online shopping with in-store pickup or curbside delivery right to their vehicles in under an hour.

In April, Walmart launched its "Express Delivery" and have since scaled it to more than 2,800 of its U.S. stores, reaching more than 65% of American households, the company said. In order to support its massive push towards online grocery deliveries, Walmart's team now includes over 50,000 personal shoppers.

Cruise did not say how many vehicles will be deployed in Arizona as part of the pilot with Walmart.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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