There has been a lot of talk in recent years about self-driving cars. In fact, there have been companies working with governments around the globe to define what the different levels of self-driving are. For example, a level two self-driving car has less capability than a level five. While progress has been made, companies that do a lot of deliveries are looking at the impact on their industry. Of all the companies in the world, Walmart is a good example. Many of their shoppers are placing orders online and want at-home delivery of their goods. So, Walmart is exploring how self-driving robotic all-electric cars can work for their deliveries.
Electric self-driving deliveries from Walmart
Walmart has teamed up with Cruise, a General Motors supported company, to provide contactless delivery. According to a report by Forbes, the deliveries will be via Cruise’s electric-powered self-driving vehicles. So, the company will not only deliver products robotically but also lower its carbon footprint in the process.
“Customers can place an order from their local store and have it delivered, contact-free, via one of Cruise’s all-electric self-driving cars. 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.” – Tom Ward, Sr. Vice President for Customer Product
Demand for electric robotaxis growing during pandemic
This is not a new effort by Walmart. As far back as 2018, the report said, the company was working with Waymo to deliver packages. However, that was with a fleet that had a mix of internal combustion engine and hybrid-powered vehicles. This most recent announcement with Cruise is specifically for an all-electric fleet.
The roll-out of the all-electric program is expected in early 2021. Initially, Cruise will draw from its fleet of vehicles in the Scottsdale, Arizona area. The deliveries will center on suburban Phoenix customers.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses worldwide have found themselves needing access to convenient and affordable contactless delivery services. This has brought some attention to the burgeoning robotaxi industry, which is increasingly going all-electric. Consequently, companies like Cruise and Waymo have been receiving a lot of attention, as have the traditional non-robotic courier companies, like GrubHub. Companies varying from restaurants and florists to dry cleaners have all been exploring delivery partnership options with small businesses.
Ford is eyeing the delivery industry
Even Ford, the storied automaker, is delving into the robotaxi arena. It has partnered with Argo AI to fine-tune self-driving technology for the purposes of rolling out improvements to its consumer vehicles, as well as those vehicles involved in self-driving contactless deliveries. No word from Ford yet on when a wide roll-out will occur, or if their effort will be for an all-electric fleet. But, they did offer,
“We’re excited to be part of this important sector of our economy and our community. As we continue our testing, we will refine other aspects of our delivery service business model, the operations, the app, the vehicle and perhaps most importantly, the user experience. We’re working to build a service that’s accessible, reliable, sensitive to the needs of our local markets, and that helps our communities thrive.”
A company as large as Walmart getting involved in all-electric self-driving robotic cars may be the signal to the rest of the delivery industry that a seismic shift is about to occur, or maybe is already happening. Indeed, Amazon and UPS are all looking at converting their fleets to electric power. So, maybe self-driving deliveries from those companies are not far behind either. The next 10 years should be interesting to watch.