Austin streets have become a go-to proving ground for a variety of autonomous vehicles (the term of art for what have also been known as “self-driving” or “driverless” vehicles)—including some put there by the city and Capital Metro as well as renowned/reviled pizza robots of summer 2021. Don’t look for that trend to end anytime soon: On Wednesday, Ford Motor Company, Argo AI, and Walmart announced plans to launch an autonomous delivery service in Austin, Miami, and Washington, DC.
While the pizza robots were designed to travel (and, apparently, park) in bicycle lanes, the Walmart service will use what look like full-on vehicles meant for car lanes (though no guarantees on where they’ll park/pull over for dropping off deliveries), manufactured by Ford and equipped with the Argo AI self-driving systems. Argo’s cloud-based infrastructure will integrate with Walmart’s online ordering platform to route orders and schedule packages for delivery to customers’ residences. If all goes as planned with testing, the service could be available later this year, when Walmart customers who are within a defined area could have their online orders delivered by a Ford self-driving vehicle with two safety drivers inside.
Ford also recently announced that it will collaborate with Lyft to deploy its self-driving vehicles, with safety drivers, on the ride-hailing company’s network in Austin starting next year. The automotive manufacturer announced the launch of its self-driving operations for ride-hailing and goods delivery in the Texas capital, Miami, and Washington, DC, in 2019, and Ford and Argo AI have been testing the technology in Austin since then, as well as working with the city, establishing an autonomous vehicle terminal, and investing in a command center during that time.
A collaboration with Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, in three large cities will enable a demonstration of “the potential for autonomous vehicle delivery services at scale,” said Argo AI founder and CEO Bryan Salesky. Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of last-mile delivery in the US, chimed in on the collaboration’s showcasing of the system’s large-scale potential. “This collaboration will further our mission to get products to the homes of our customers with unparalleled speed and ease,” he said, “and, in turn, will continue to pave the way for autonomous delivery."
“Argo and Ford are aggressively preparing for large-scale autonomous vehicle operations across a broad footprint of US cities,” said Scott Griffith, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Businesses. “Pairing Walmart’s retail and e-commerce leadership with Argo and Ford’s self-driving operations across these multiple cities marks a significant step toward scaling a commercial goods delivery service that will ultimately power first-to-scale business efficiencies and enable a great consumer experience.”