Walmart joins Ford for self-driving deliveries

The US retail chain is looking for a slice of the lucrative last-mile deliveries market.
14 November 2018 | 11 Shares

An attendee looks at a Ford Fusion hybrid autonomous development vehicle at the Ford booth at CES 2017. Source: David Becker / Getty Images North America

When it comes to embracing emerging technologies, Walmart seems to be ahead of the curve. From making blockchain tracking a requirement among its leafy greens providers by next year, to filing patents for drone shopping assistants, the US retail giant is, shall we say, enthusiastically readying itself for a world of new-wave tech.

In its latest show of intent, Walmart has partnered with Ford Motor Co and delivery service Postmates in a collaboration which seeks to automate the delivery of groceries and other goods with autonomous vehicles.

Don’t think this dream team is first out the traps, though; autonomous vehicle deliveries are already being pioneered by a brace of startups including the Google-vet-founded Nuro, and AutoX, a delivery and mobile store pilot launched in partnership with GrubMarket.com.

Behind this collaboration, however, is the fact that Ford is a frontrunner in the development of self-driving cars— it’s pretty confident it will launch commercial production by 2021— and has already ironed out a lot of the finer details, having worked with Postmates on the delivery concept for some time. It’s also conducted similar trials with pizza delivery firm Dominos.  

Launching the pilot in Miami, customers will be able to order Walmart goods for delivery by Postmates via one of Ford’s autonomous vehicle fleet. Over the coming months, tests will establish what kind of goods can feasibly be delivered, especially perishable goods, with the humid climes of the Southern state a testing proving-ground for its real-world launch in 2019.

“Before self-driving cars can go mainstream, we must get a better sense of how people want to interact with them,” Tom Ward, Walmart senior vice president for digital operations. That will include the design of vehicles and equipment best suited to transport items securely, and those that can be accessed easily on the vehicle’s arrival

“Together, we will gather crucial data to learn the best way to bring items to customers,” Ward added. “There’s no telling what innovation the future will bring, but Walmart is committed to staying on the forefront of change to make getting groceries simple, quick and easy.”

In entering the partnership— and in light of its aforementioned interests in drone deliveries— Walmart is readying itself for the next era of last-mile deliveries, a highly-competitive sector which will become even more so aided by disruptive technologies once the initial hurdles of cost, safety and regulations are inevitably overcome. It would also put Walmart in further competition with Amazon; the e-commerce behemoth sees this resource-intensive leg of the delivery process as a strategic and lucrative point of disruption— hence why we hear so much about the company’s plans for drone deliveries in the near future.

In working with Ford, Walmart is certainly in good hands to lay down the gauntlet. The automotive company is injecting US$4 billion into its Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC unit up until 2023, focusing exclusively on self-driving vehicles for commercial use, such as goods delivery.