Walmart Inc. is about to team up with Cruise LLC, the self-driving car unit majority-owned by General Motors Co., to experiment with delivering customer orders using driverless vehicles. Cruise’s robot-piloted cars will ferry orders to customers’ homes from a Walmart store in Scottsdale, Arizona, starting early next year, Tom Ward, the retailer’s senior vice president of customer product, said in a November 10th blog post.

The pilot program — which may be expanded — marks a big step for both companies. Walmart is fighting for market share with rival retail giant Inc., which recently bought self-driving vehicle startup Zoox Inc. For GM’s Cruise unit, the partnership provides a pathway into potentially lucrative delivery services distinct from its primary focus on ride-sharing robotaxis.

Cruise is just the latest partner for Walmart, which has been doing similar self-driving car tests with Waymo, the autonomous unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., and startup Nuro Inc. as well as drone delivery tryouts. The world’s biggest retailer is preparing for a future when shoppers don’t have to drive to the store, and it’s trying out a number of different technologies.

“We may be growing delivery options today, but we’re still experimenting with new ways we can use technology to serve customers in the future,” Ward wrote. “You’ve seen us test drive with self-driving cars in the past, and we’re continuing to learn a lot about how they can shape the future of retail.”

Walmart customers can place an order from the Scottsdale store and have it delivered, contact-free, via one of Cruise’s all-electric self-driving cars, Ward said. If the program works well, the two companies could expand it to other stores, said Cruise spokesman Ray Wert.

Source: Globe and Mail