Ford’s self-driving cars could soon be delivering Walmart products in Miami-Dade Country in Florida.
Ford announced on Wednesday that it is teaming up with Walmart and Postmates, a delivery service, to test the ways its self-driving vehicles can be used to deliver products like groceries, toiletries, pet food, and other consumer items.
Walmart and Ford were both already Postmates partners, so they are using the company’s delivery fulfillment infrastructure to help power the pilot program.
“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,” said Brian Wolf, director of business development for Ford Autonomous Vehicles, in a company blog post.
Ford has said it aims to roll out a self-driving fleet of vehicles for a ride-hailing service by 2021, but the company also has ambitions to use autonomous technology to make a big push into logistics.
“The logistics opportunity is enormous,” Ford’s CEO Jim Hackett told Business Insider in January. “For small businesses, this is a big advantage. They have been suffering. In retail right now, scale drives out the small retailers. Logistics equalizes some of that.”
According to a 2016 McKinsey study, autonomous vehicles, including drones, will account for about 80% of all consumer parcel deliveries during the next 10 years. What’s more, by 2050, transporting goods both locally and long distances with autonomous vehicles could generate $2.9 trillion in revenue, according to a study by Strategy Analytics.
In February, Ford announced that it would be partnering with Domino’s to test its autonomous vehicles in Miami for delivering pizza.
Wolf said in the company blog post on Wednesday that Ford has made more than 1,000 deliveries in their “initial phase” of self-driving vehicles, and that its partnership with Walmart will only help it in its endeavor to bring self-driving cars to market in a way “that people actually want to experience.”
As part of the program, Wolf also said it will be testing various vehicle designs to see what works best for shipping different items.
“Together, we’ll be using research vehicles, designed to simulate an autonomous experience, to gather crucial data about consumer preferences and learn the best way we can conveniently connect people with the goods they need,” Wolf said in the company blog post.
“Naturally, orders from a supermarket will tend to be larger and more varied than orders from a restaurant or dry cleaner,” Wolf said. “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.”
This means we could see concept vehicles like Ford’s autonomous delivery robot dubbed ‘Autolivery’, come to fruition, or possibly even an autonomous delivery van or truck.