American shoppers will soon be offered a ride to Walmart... in a self-driving car. Google's sister company Waymo is rolling out a pilot in which around 400 regular customers will be taken to the hypermarket with an unmanned shuttle car.
High-tech shuttle as an appetiser
In Phoenix, Arizona Walmart and Waymo are testing a shuttle service with self-driving cars. The participating customers are picked up at home whenever they wish and brought back home after their shopping, all that in a car without a driver. The service would not be free, but there is no information about the cost. Participants are promised a discount if they order products through Walmart's Online Grocery Pickup service, the grocer's click & collect.
For the time being, Walmart is still allowing people to do their own shopping in the shops and the self-driving car only serves as a high-tech taxi, but the distribution chain is probably trying to measure how far shoppers are prepared to go in automating their shopping trip: when the groceries are ready to pick up when the self-driving car arrives, customers do not have to do anything themselves anymore.
An experience of 8 million miles
Perceptive shoppers had already noticed the cooperation when they spotted reserved parking spots for Waymo at a Walmart site earlier this week. Now the cooperation is officially announced, just two days after Waymo released a statement saying that the company's self-driving fleet has already traveled 8 million miles (12.9 million kilometers) on American roads. That is twice as much road experience as in November last year.
The Waymo test program has been running in Phoenix since June 2017. In the meantime, competitor Uber has also resumed testing self-driving cars, after their project had been temporarily stopped due to a fatal traffic accident. The cars will remain under human supervision for the time being.