Ford, Argo and Walmart bring robotic delivery to three US cities

Ford and Walmart are teaming up to launch a robo-delivery service in three US cities, using autonomous test vehicles equipped with sensors and software developed by Argo AI. Customers who live in Miami, Austin and Washington, DC, who order items from Walmart online, and who reside in a specific geographic area may be eligible to have their items delivered by a Ford/Argo vehicle.

The companies plan to begin “integration testing” for the delivery service this year, with plans to expand geographic areas over time. According to a recent report, autonomous delivery is seen as a potentially lucrative market, with online grocery shopping increasing fivefold over the next decade and US consumers spending more than $100 billion on home food items by 2025.

Ford has been experimenting with robo-delivery for a number of years. In 2018, it announced a grocery delivery pilot with Walmart and Instacart. The automaker has also helped Domino’s deliver pizza using its autonomous vehicles.

There are still many hurdles to work out. The vehicles will require human monitors both behind the wheel and from remote command centers, so any labor savings could take years to come. Customers would have to take their deliveries from the vehicles, which could pose problems for elderly and disabled customers, as well as those who live in apartment buildings and are used to having delivery men deliver their orders to their door.

Ford isn’t the only company trying to work on these challenges. Cruise, which is supported by General Motors, has its own pilot project with Walmart in Arizona. In fact, the retail giant is hedging its bets by entering into non-exclusive partnerships with a wide variety of AV operators, including Nuro, Udelv and Waymo.

Delivery is just one aspect of Ford’s plan to bring autonomous vehicles to market. The automaker recently announced a partnership with Lyft to deploy robotaxis in the same three cities before the end of the year.

In addition to Austin, Miami and DC, Ford and Argo have tested their fourth-generation vehicles in Pittsburgh, Detroit and California. Argo is also preparing to launch an autonomous micro-transit and delivery service with VW in Germany, using its fifth-generation autonomous technology, from 2025. The AV company is rumored to be considering an initial public offering with a valuation of $12.4 billion.