While most tend to associate autonomous vehicles with hassle-free driving — or for some, with a healthy dose of skepticism — it seems Walmart has some different plans in mind. While autonomous, that is to say, driverless, vehicles are already shuttling passengers and cargo around parts of the United States, Walmart is targeting home deliveries, and the retail giant has brought on a new startup to help reach its goal.
As reported by TechCrunch, Walmart has inked a deal with technology startup Udelv, which will be tasked with testing the use of driverless vehicles in order to deliver online grocery orders to Walmart customers.
If you’re getting excited at the prospect of having most of your grocery shopping done for you, it would be wise to taper your expectations. The testing period, which is set to begin sometime this February, is being limited to the small town of Surprise, Arizona. During the trial phase, Udelv will be providing Walmart with its second generation of autonomous delivery vans, which the company is calling Newton.
Like most autonomous vehicles which are currently on the road, Udelv’s vans will not be running the show on their own, at least not yet. Vehicles will be overseen by onboard safety drivers, who are able to take over driving responsibilities at a moment’s notice. This is not an uncommon practice — Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving technology company, has been testing autonomous ride-hailing services in Arizona for over a year, and similar to Udelv, each Waymo vehicle comes with a safety driver.
Udelv’s Newton vehicles are modified with a special cargo system which is capable of carrying up to 32 customer orders per delivery run. The vans will also be able to travel on highways and can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
On Walmart’s official website, a blog post from Tom Ward, Senior Vice President of Digital Operations for Walmart U.S., details the company’s excitement for the new project.
“Over the last few years we’ve been working hard to bring Grocery Pickup and Delivery to more and more customers across the country for one reason: Customers love it! It makes shopping easy and saves loads of time.
But, we’re not stopping with simply rolling out the service to more stores. We continue to explore new ways that can make what’s easy today even easier tomorrow. That includes testing a number of things, including autonomous vehicle technology – and today, we’re announcing a new pilot with autonomous vehicle company, Udelv.”