Starting this summer, Waymo will use its self-driving technology to ferry shoppers to a Walmart store in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.
The companies announced a partnership that helps consumers save money on groceries by ordering them on the retail behemoth’s website. When the order is ready for curbside pickup, one of Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans will be dispatched to bring the shopper to the store to retrieve the groceries.
For now, the service is limited in scope. It is open only to members of Waymo’s early-rider program-not the general public-and there’s only one participating Walmart store, in Chandler, Arizona.
But as Waymo, the commercial-minded descendant of Google’s self-driving-car project, continues to examine how its technology integrates into the everyday lives of people participating in its pilot project, it’s easy to imagine how this fledgling partnership might one day be replicated across more than 1500 Walmart stores nationwide.
“We know from our early riders that most of their rides are to run errands, shop for groceries, commute to work, head to dinner, or fix their personal vehicles,” Waymo said in a written statement. “We’ve tailored our partnerships to meet the top rider needs.”
Since customers have already ordered their groceries online, it’s worth wondering why the self-driving vehicles can’t just make deliveries to homes instead of taking shoppers along for the ride. That development would help provide the “unique value” for customers who, Waymo says, spend “a significant portion of time each week running errands and shopping,” and it would also help pioneer a delivery use case for automated technology.
Delivery is a business model several companies are contemplating for self-driving vehicles-most notably Ford, which has set up a pilot project in Miami focused on pizza deliveries with Domino’s and other packages with Postmates. Walmart, for its part, says it’s open to exploring such avenues in the future with Waymo.
“We’re using this pilot to give customers a new experience using innovative technology and to learn,” said Walmart spokesperson Molly Blakeman. “We’ll take what we find in this pilot and continue to evolve.”
Waymo Eyes More Shoppers
In other shopping-related program news, Waymo said it has further partnered with DDR, a commercial real-estate business that has a nationwide portfolio of shopping centers and other developments. Waymo self-driving vehicles will furnish rides to consumers eager to visit the Ahwatukee Foothills Towne Center in Chandler, a move that Waymo says will allow riders to “avoid the stress of parking lots.”
Such self-driving routes are gaining in popularity. Earlier this month, Drive.ai started a similar one in Frisco, Texas, where the Silicon Valley startup now offers employees in an area business park automated rides to and from a nearby shopping center that contains restaurants and retail outlets-albeit with human safety drivers still behind the wheel.
In both the Waymo and Drive.ai cases, the transportation offerings are being subsidized by the real-estate companies involved in the projects.
A smattering of other Waymo news also emerged: The company says it has expanded the scope of its existing partnerships with Avis and AutoNation, which have worked with Waymo on fleet management in the Phoenix area. Now there will be customer-facing aspects of their partnership. Instead of getting a loaner car from AutoNation when their own vehicle is in for repairs, members of the early-rider program can get a Waymo to take them home or to the office. Similarly, early-rider members can now hail a Waymo from an Avis location as a last-mile solution after they drop off their rental cars.
Self-Driving Tech a Luxury Item
In the realm of new partnerships, Waymo says it will work with the Element Hotel in Chandler to help give business guests a VIP-style experience with a self-driving service. While Waymo didn’t divulge the vehicles intended for this service on Wednesday, it’d make sense to use the Jaguar I-Pace for such luxury-minded experiences.
When Waymo announced earlier this year that it would add Jag’s new electric crossover to its fleet, CEO John Krafcik said that with shared I-Paces, “we can make this premium experience available to everyone.”
Last month, Waymo shared some insights on its early-rider program, which started in April 2017. While getting to and from work was the most popular use, others in the top 10 included reaching restaurants, bars, car-repair shops, retail stores, and supermarkets.
- Waymo Adds Jaguar I-Pace EVs to Lineup, Unveils Plans for Self-Driving Ride-Hailing Service
- In Texas, Drive.ai’s Self-Driving Vehicles Will Take Office Workers to Lunch
- Waymo and FCA Double Down on Self-Driving Ambitions
Taken together, Wednesday’s announcements are sure signs that Waymo is thinking beyond the self-driving technology itself and putting extensive effort into figuring out how people will actually use these vehicles as part of their everyday routines.