Walmart and Cruise partner to test autonomous grocery delivery in Arizona

U.S. retailer Walmart and autonomous vehicle company Cruise are pairing up to test grocery delivery in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Under the pilot program, customers will be able to place an order from their local Walmart store and have it delivered via one of Cruise’s autonomous, electric Chevy Bolt cars. While the vehicles will operate autonomously, a human safety operator will always be behind the wheel.

The companies haven’t provided details on the size of the fleet or customer area that will be served, beyond stating it will be in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix. The pilot program is expected to begin early next year.

“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, Walmart’s senior vice president of customer product in the U.S., said Tuesday in a statement. Ward said this pilot supports the retailer’s “road to zero emissions by 2040.”

Image Credits: Walmart

The program announced Tuesday is the latest example of Walmart exploring ways to expand pickup and delivery services. Walmart launched in April a program called Express, which provides orders in two hours or less for an additional $10 on top of the usual delivery fee. Express was initially piloted at 100 stores and is now scaled to more than 2,800 locations.

Walmart has also partnered with a handful of autonomous vehicle developers, including Waymo, to test out how the technology might eventually be used at a commercial scale. The retailer signed a deal in 2019 with startup Udelv to test the use of autonomous vans to deliver online grocery orders to customers in Surprise, Arizona. Autonomous delivery startup Nuro launched a pilot program with Walmart in Houston in 2020. The retail giant participated in a pilot with Postmates and Ford in the Miami-Dade area and last year the retailer tapped AV startup Gatik to deliver customer online grocery orders from Walmart’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas.

While Cruise is best known for its plan to launch a driverless robotaxi service in San Francisco, the company has also dabbled in delivery.

Cruise and DoorDash completed in 2019 a delivery pilot in San Francisco. At the time, CEO Dan Ammann said partnering with DoorDash would provide the company with “critical learnings as we further our mission to deliver technology that makes people’s lives better and more convenient.”

And it appears it did. When the COVID-19 pandemic swept into North America, prompting government lockdowns, Cruise initially paused its testing in San Francisco. The company then started delivering prepared meals for two food banks. Cruise has now made nearly 125,000 deliveries under this program. Cruise’s decision wasn’t without controversy. Critics viewed it as a tactic to sidestep the shutdown and find a new way to test.

It’s unclear just how long Cruise’s pilot program with Walmart will last or if it will even expand. Cruise has maintained a small fleet of its self-driving Chevy Bolt EVs in Scottsdale, where it has mapped the area and tested its technology since at least 2016.