Ford, Walmart partner on self-driving grocery delivery

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. is partnering with Walmart to figure out how self-driving vehicles might be used for delivering groceries.

The automaker announced Wednesday it would leverage an existing partnership with Postmates to study how to best use robotic vehicles for grocery delivery. Postmates has a network of couriers that deliver almost anything locally on-demand and has been a Walmart grocery delivery partner.

Ford and Walmart are teaming up to test grocery delivery in self-driving cars.

Walmart has more than 5,000 Sam's Club and Walmart locations in the U.S. The retail giant expects to expand delivery options to 800 stores in 100 U.S. metropolitan areas by the end of the year. The heart of Ford's research will start in Miami-Dade County, where the automaker has spent nearly a year testing and building out a business model for the autonomous vehicle fleets it plans to launch in 2021.

"Like us, 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, Ford's autonomous vehicle business lead, said in a statement. "Together, we’ll be gathering crucial data about consumer preferences and learning the best way we can conveniently connect people with the goods they need."

The announcement comes ahead of a Wednesday event in Miami in which Ford executives — including CEO Jim Hackett, and officials from Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based technology company currently building the software for Ford's autonomous vehicles — will give details on the development of the autonomous cars and how the companies plan to use them come 2021.

Walmart isn't Ford's first commercial partner on autonomous vehicle research. The automaker last year ran tests with Domino's Pizza in Ann Arbor using a vehicle outfitted with a suite of autonomous vehicle sensors. The companies wanted to see how customers reacted to getting their pizzas delivered by a car that looked like it wasn't being driven by a human.

The news with Walmart comes after Hackett in recent months has promised more details, clarity and updates on Ford's ongoing restructuring, cost-saving efforts and pending partnerships.

Most recently, news has been circulating around partnership talks with Volkswagen AG. The German automaker is considering investing more than $1 billion in Argo AI, in which Ford has a majority stake. 

Volkswagen and Ford are negotiating other pieces of an autonomous vehicle partnership in addition to partnering globally on light commercial vehicles, trucks and other pieces of the companies' global business. 

The automaker in Miami this week is expected to give media, analysts and investors rides in its autonomous test vehicles, and demonstrate pieces of the developing business model.

The Walmart partnership will be focused on research. Ford won't be running vehicles without a human driver through Walmart parking lots.

The automaker is interested in figuring out what modifications would need to be made to a delivery vehicle to effectively transport perishable goods, or how an autonomous vehicle would make multiple deliveries in one trip.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau