Ford is partnering with Walmart and Postmates to test the business of delivering goods like groceries and pet food using self-driving vehicles.
The pilot project is focused on Miami-Dade County, according to Ford’s announcement Wednesday. This is an area where Ford is already embedded and testing out what a commercial self-driving vehicle business might look like through collaborations with Postmates, Dominoes and local merchants.
Ford is pursuing two parallels tracks — develop and test the self-driving vehicle system while separately work on the business side of how a dedicated fleet of autonomous vehicles might operate in the real world —as it moves toward its targeted commercial launch in 2021. The company is testing the business model through pilot programs with Dominoes, Postmates, local businesses in the Miami area and now Walmart.
Ford has already completed more than 1,000 deliveries as part of the initial phases of building up its self-driving business.
Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based startup in which Ford invested $1 billion in 2016, is developing and testing the self-driving vehicle technology. The company is testing autonomous vehicles in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Miami and in the first quarter of 2019, they’ll begin testing self-driving vehicles in Washington, D.C.
Under the Walmart-Postmates pilot, Ford will be using research vehicles designed to simulate an autonomous experience. These will not be true autonomous vehicles. However, these research vehicles, which will be used to gather data about consumer preferences, will look and in many ways function like autonomous vehicles.
Ford said it will “work closely” with Walmart over the next couple of months to understand its operations, identify what goods can be transported, as well as spot, and hopefully solve, the issues that might spring up with delivering goods via self-driving vehicles. For instance, the automaker will experiment with different vehicle configurations and add-ons like refrigeration, which would be required to transport perishable food items.
Walmart already has a partnership with self-driving vehicle technology company Waymo, a Google spin-off owned by parent company Alphabet. But these partnerships differ. Waymo picks up customers and drives them to businesses like Walmart in the Phoenix area. With the Ford partnership, the research AV vehicles are delivering groceries to customers at home.
Earlier this year, the automaker created Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC to house the company’s self-driving systems integration, autonomous-vehicle research and advanced engineering, AV transportation-as-a-service network development, user experience, business strategy and business development teams. Ford said at the time that it plans to spend $4 billion through 2023 in its newly created LLC dedicated to building out an autonomous vehicles business.