Ford Motor is ramping up its strategy of developing commercial uses for self-driving technology, unveiling a joint grocery delivery project with Walmart and Postmates.
The collaboration announced on Wednesday is aimed at creating a service that will use autonomous vehicles manufactured by Ford to deliver groceries to Walmart customers.
San Francisco-based Postmates, which offers delivery from brick-and-mortar restaurants and stores in 385 U.S. cities, had already been collaborating with Ford to develop delivery services that could employ automated vehicles.
“Like Ford, Walmart believes that self-driving vehicles have an important role to play in the future of delivery, and that true success comes from first learning how individuals want to use them in their daily lives,” Brian Wolf, an executive in Ford’s AV unit, said in a news release
“Together, we’ll be using research vehicles, designed to simulate an autonomous experience, to gather crucial data about consumer preferences and learn the best way we can conveniently connect people with the goods they need,” he added.
Ford has said it expects to launch commercial production of automated vehicles by 2021. But as Investor’s Business Daily reports, it has been lagging behind General Motors and Alphabet in its self-driving efforts.
Alphabet’s Waymo plans to launch a driverless robotaxi service by year-end and GM has set a similar goal for 2019.
Ford’s strategy has been focused on commercial uses of AV technology with a goal of making profitable self-driving cars. An Edmunds analyst said Ford’s partnership with Walmart shows it’s doubling down on that strategy.
“Solving commercial challenges is far easier than solving commuter ones, and is most likely the area where self-driving technology will take off first,” Jeremy Acevedo told IBD. “People may not be willing to trust a self-driving car to take them somewhere, but if the car is going to bring things to them and make their lives a little easier, suddenly the technology is a lot less scary.”
CNBC noted that replacing human delivery van drivers with robotic systems could reduce delivery costs for retailers.