Walmart, automaker Ford Motor Co. and Postmates are collaborating on a pilot program in Miami that will use grocery delivery vehicles driven by humans to help evaluate how self-driving vehicles might be used for such a service, according to a Reuters report.
The partnership comes a few months after Walmart began a test in Chandler, Arizona, that allows customers who place online grocery orders to be driven to and from the Walmart store in a self-driving vehicle provided by Waymo.
Tom Ward, senior vice president of Walmart's U.S. digital operations, said in a Walmart blog post: "Walmart and Ford agree autonomous vehicles have an important role to play as we consider the future of delivery. Before self-driving cars can go mainstream, we must get a better sense of how people want to interact with them. Together, we will gather crucial data to learn the best way to bring items to customers."
Walmart, Ford and Postmates, according to Reuters, plan to use vehicles in the Miami program that are mocked up to look driverless, but actually will be driven by humans.
That doesn't mean this test won't serve as valuable in the ability of all three parties to evaluate self-driving vehicles for product and package delivery. Ford, which plans to put driverless vehicles into commercial production by 2021, has gone on record saying that package delivery will be a key application for them.
An important step toward having Walmart and other retailers and grocery stores eventually use self-driving cars for deliveries is to get a sense of how customers will react to them and interact with them. Though human drivers reportedly will be involved in this pilot program, it could still provide some valuable insight on the degree to which Walmart customers might accept and embrace the notion of receiving deliveries from a driverless vehicle.
Aside from that, the pilot program also comes as Walmart has achieved some major progress with both its online grocery business and in its efforts to make its stores a central piece of its e-commerce logistics strategy. According to a study by Retail Feedback Group, consumers favored Walmart's online grocery services over Amazon's. Also, Walmart has expanded expedited shipping and in-store returns, reportedly is looking at creating a pick-up-only grocery store, and according to this week's blog post, already offers grocery delivery in almost 100 metro areas.
However this pilot program goes, and whatever happens next with driverless vehicles, Walmart appears well-positioned in online grocery ordering and delivery.