Walmart plans self-driving home delivery in 2021 with Ford and Argo AI cars

Ford and autonomous vehicle company Argo AI are working with Walmart to launch a driverless delivery service, with the goal of filling in the last mile of home orders. It'll be the retail behemoth's first multi-city autonomous delivery collaboration in the US, Walmart said today, and see the total number of locations taken to three.

The three companies had already worked together on an autonomous project for deliveries back in 2018. Then, it took place in Miami, FL; now, Ford, Argo AI, and Walmart plan to expand that to include Austin, TX, and Washington, D.C.

Walmart shoppers will be able to order groceries and other items online, as normal. However the last mile of delivery will be handled by a Ford self-driving test vehicle, powered by the Argo AI Self-Driving System. Initial testing will begin later in 2021.

"The commercial service will be available to Walmart customers within defined service areas of the three markets and will expand over time," Ford said of the collaboration. "As consumer expectations continue to shift to next-day or same-day delivery – especially in the urban core where there is a higher concentration of deliveries – this collaboration will drive key learnings in how autonomous technology can enhance customer experiences, while also optimizing logistics and operations."

While the shopping experience may not look different for customers, on the backend there'll be important integrations between Walmart's software and that of Argo AI. The latter will be linked to the retailer's ordering platform, so that deliveries can be routed appropriately and scheduled.

For those hoping to avoid awkward conversations with human delivery drivers, however, those days are still some way off. The vehicles may drive themselves in the three regions, but there'll still be a human at the steering wheel, acting as a safety monitor.

That differs from other last-mile delivery projects currently operating in the US, such as from Starship. The autonomous delivery drones there are more like oversized coolers on wheels than traditional vehicles, with human monitoring from a remote service center.

Argo AI has focused on larger vehicles, tapping the fleets of its backers Ford and Volkswagen. Earlier this month, the company showed off its latest test vehicle, a heavily customized version of the upcoming VW ID. BUZZ electric microbus.