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Walmart recently ended its partnership with Bossa Nova‘s shelf-scanning robots, but the world’s largest retailer continues to experiment with robotics. Walmart today announced a partnership with Cruise to test an autonomous delivery service that will start in early 2021 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
According to Walmart, customers will be able to place an order and it will be delivered contact-free by a Cruise vehicle. Cruise has maintained a small fleet of autonomous vehicles in Phoenix since 2016. However, it’s not clear yet how many vehicles will be a part of this pilot or how many customers.
Cruise’s autonomous vehicles will initially be tested with human backup drivers onboard. But Cruise spokesperson Ray Wert said it will eventually move to fully autonomous deliveries. Cruise, a majority-owned subsidiary of General Motors, uses the all-electric Chevy Bolt for its autonomous vehicles.
“What’s unique about Cruise is they’re the only self-driving car company to operate an entire fleet of all-electric vehicles powered with 100% renewable energy, which supports our road to zero emissions by 2040,” said Tom Ward, SVP of customer product, Walmart U.S. in a statement.
What isn’t unique here is Walmart partnering with an autonomous vehicle company. Walmart is also testing autonomous vehicles from Ford, Nuro, Udelv and Waymo. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, online grocery shopping was projected to grow fivefold over the next decade with American consumers spending upward of $100 billion on food-at-home items by 2025. Just yesterday, Nuro raised another $500 million in funding, raising it’s total funding raised to date to about $1.5 billion.
Founded in 2013 by Kyle Vogt and Dan Kan, Cruise has mainly been testing its vehicles in San Francisco. It has repeatedly said San Francisco is a more challenging environment than other areas where autonomous vehicles are being tested, thus, giving it a leg up on the competition. The partnership with Walmart is another sign Cruise is exploring moving beyond the robotaxi world. Earlier in the year it also used its vehicles to make food deliveries in San Francisco.
Cruise still maintains it will launch a ride-hailing service in San Francisco, but it hasn’t detailed when. In January 2020, Cruise introduced its Origin vehicle, which it said will make urban transportation safer, easier, and cheaper. The driverless vehicle is the result of a collaboration among Cruise, GM, and Honda Motor Co.
Cruise in October 2020 was approved to test its vehicles without backup drivers on California’s public roads. It said it will start these tests before the end of the year. Cruise became the fifth company to receive a fully driverless permit from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, joining Waymo, Nuro, Zoox, and AutoX. Sixty companies currently have a permit to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers in California.
Brad Bogolea, co-founder and CEO of Simbe Robotics, recently joined The Robot Report Podcast to discuss the abrupt end of Walmart’s relationship with Bossa Nova, which had planned earlier this year to expand its rollout of inventory robots to 1,000 stores. Bogolea also talked about the prospects for robotics in retail and what lessons the Walmart partnership provides for developers and startups.