Walmart and Cruise LLC are starting a pilot program early next year for customers to have their groceries delivered by one of Cruise's all-electric self-driving cars, Walmart said.
The pilot, which will start in Scottsdale, Ariz., is beginning after Walmart saw an increase in delivery services usage during the pandemic, the retailer said in a blog post.
Walmart launched Express Delivery in April, and it's now offered in more than 2,800 stores. Experts have said autonomous companies are likely to put more of a focus on delivery of goods rather than people after the pandemic forced people into social distancing.
"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," Tom Ward, Walmart's senior vice president of customer product, wrote in the blog post.
Cruise, which is largely owned by General Motors Co., has a fleet of all-electric vehicles powered with 100% renewable energy, supporting Walmart's zero emissions by 2040 goal, Ward noted.
"Technology that has the potential to not only save customers time and money but also is helpful to the planet is technology we want to learn more about," he wrote.
Cruise previously partnered with DoorDash for food deliveries in San Francisco. This year, Cruise worked with food banks in San Francisco to deliver products to those in need during the pandemic crisis. Cruise has completed about 125,000 deliveries so far in its COVID-19 relief efforts, spokesman Ray Wert said.
"We're always looking for partners that align with our goals and one of Walmart's goals is to go to zero emissions by 2040, and that's something that obviously is very important us," Wert said. "Walmart sees the value in working with us and working with and getting to use our technology."
Cruise recently received approval from California to test autonomous vehicles without a safety driver on the streets of San Francisco. It's expected to do that before the end of this year.
In October, Cruise's Vice President Global Government Affairs Robert Grant wrote a Medium.com post detailing what Cruise was doing to minimize the risk of coronavirus spread inside its self-driving electric shuttle, the Origin.
The Origin will be built at Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center after production of the Hummer EV launches there in late 2021.
Since the Origin doesn't have driver controls, GM and Cruise will be filing an exemption petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for approval to deploy the Origin. The companies will be withdrawing an earlier request that focused only on Cruise AVs derived from the Chevrolet Bolt platform.
"While the pandemic persists, every Origin will also provide hand sanitizer and wipes, and require masks to be worn by all passengers," Grant wrote. "An already robust cleaning schedule will be increased to ensure our riders are completely confident that their shared ride of the future is as safe as possible. Even in a pandemic."