The pilot program - taking place in Miami-Dade County in Florida - is exploring how Ford's self-driving vehicles can complement Walmart's existing delivery offerings, say the companies. Postmates - which currently operates in 385 U.S. cities, as well as Mexico - is already a partner of both companies, enabling the companies to use its existing infrastructure to get the pilot up and running quickly.
"Walmart and Ford agree autonomous vehicles have an important role to play as we consider the future of delivery," says Tom Ward, Senior Vice President, Digital Operations, Walmart U.S. "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."
On Ford's part, Brian Wolf, Director, Business Development, Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC says, "Over the next couple of months, we'll be working closely with Walmart to understand its operations, identify what goods we can feasibly transport, and pinpoint any issues that may need to be addressed to successfully deliver orders via self-driving vehicles."
"Naturally," says Wolf, "orders from a supermarket will tend to be larger and more varied than orders from a restaurant or dry cleaner. So we'll be exploring different vehicle configurations or modifications that we could make to meet people's needs - especially to accommodate perishable goods, or scenarios where our vehicles end up making multiple deliveries on a single trip."
The pilot will offer customers delivery of goods ordered at Walmart stores and will initially use research vehicles with human drivers "designed to simulate an autonomous experience," Ford says. Ford has said it expects to launch commercial production of automated vehicles by 2021.
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