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GM-backed autonomous vehicle startup Cruise today announced a partnership with Walmart to deliver orders from a Scottsdale, Arizona store to customers’ homes. As part of the pilot, which is scheduled to begin in early 2021, customers will be able to place orders from a Walmart store and have them delivered via one of Cruise’s electric self-driving Chevy Bolts.
Driverless vehicle technology has already begun to transform industries. TuSimple, Einride, and others have raised tens of millions for freight systems that transport logs, shipping containers, and other cargo autonomously. Some experts predict the coronavirus outbreak will hasten adoption of autonomous delivery solutions. Despite the public’s misgivings about self-driving cars and the vehicles’ need for regular disinfection, they promise to minimize the spread of disease by limiting driver-rider contact.
Cruise and Walmart shared few details about the pilot, which will involve an undisclosed number of cars with at least one safety driver behind the wheel. But a Cruise spokesperson said that if the tests go well, the company will consider launching on-demand delivery programs with other merchants in the future. Earlier this year, Cruise announced a deal with DoorDash to test food and grocery delivery in San Francisco for select customers.
Rather than putting all of its eggs in one basket, Walmart has formed a number of driverless vehicle delivery partnerships with startups and automakers. In November, the retailer teamed up with Postmates and Ford to deliver food, personal care items, and other goods from Walmart stores in Miami-Dade County, Florida using prototype self-driving cars. Walmart stores in Surprise, Arizona briefly trialed Udelv’s self-driving vans for deliveries. Nuro, which this week raised $500 million, collaborated with Walmart to deliver groceries to customers in Houston, Texas following a pilot in Scottsdale. And Walmart is working with Gatik to ferry customer orders between select store locations in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Beyond a program to make drop-offs to food banks in San Francisco, Cruise hasn’t invested heavily in delivery. The company is testing its cars in Scottsdale and the metropolitan Detroit area, with the bulk of deployment concentrated in San Francisco. Cruise has scaled up rapidly, having grown its initial fleet of 30 driverless vehicles to about 130 by June 2017. The company hasn’t disclosed an exact total, but it has 180 self-driving cars registered with California’s DMV. And three years ago, documents obtained by IEEE Spectrum suggested Cruise planned to deploy as many as 300 test cars around the country.
In October, Cruise obtained a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that will allow it to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in San Francisco. While Cruise has had state authority to pilot driverless cars with safety drivers since 2015, the new license enables it to test five autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel on specified city streets.
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