Grocery shoppers in the Houston area are about to have a much smarter experience. On Tuesday, Walmart announced that it is partnering with autonomous vehicle startup Nuro to create a driverless grocery delivery system. Starting in 2020, the two will deliver groceries from online orders to a select group of customers in the Houston area.
The partnership is hardly Walmart’s first foray into the world of autonomous vehicles. Likewise, this isn’t the retailer’s first attempt at revolutionizing home grocery delivery. Combining the two seems like a natural fit.
Nuro will start delivering groceries for Walmart with its autonomous R2 (sadly not that R2) vehicle. It is large enough to carry 12 grocery bags in individual compartments and operates without a driver. The Houston program will also include autonomous Toyota Priuses to deliver larger orders and make deliveries that are out of the R2’s range.
Interestingly enough, Walmart isn’t banking on the fact that consumers will like the new feature. Rather, the partnership will help gather information about autonomous grocery delivery and find solutions to make it better in the future. It’s highly likely that, within the next 10-20 years, the majority of packages will be delivered via drone or autonomous vehicles. With that in mind, Walmart is getting ahead of the curve to smooth out its logistics for the long run.
Tom Ward, senior VP of Walmart’s digital operations, said, “Our unparalleled size and scale has allowed us to steer grocery delivery to the front doors of millions of families—and design a roadmap for the future of the industry.”
The partnership with Nuro will certainly work to fulfill the latter part of that plan. Should the pilot program in Houston be a success, it may be rolled out to other locations for further testing.
Ward goes on to say, “Along the way, we’ve been test driving a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to our customers’ front doors through self-driving technology. We believe this technology is a natural extension of our Grocery Pickup and Delivery service, and our goal of making every day a little easier for customers.”
Expanding the Roadmap
Though the online grocery shopping business only holds a minuscule percentage of the total industry, it is growing rapidly. That’s why many companies like Walmart, Amazon, Uber, and Postmates are working to develop solutions for it.
Per a TechCrunch report, Walmart’s online grocery sales have bolstered its total online income by 41 percent—six percent more growth than expected.
In October, the company announced its InHome delivery program. Through it, customers can get their fresh groceries delivered directly into their fridge after the installation of a smart lock. While the Nuro vehicles won’t enter a customer’s home, they will deliver groceries to the front door.
Meanwhile, Walmart has also pursued a partnership with startup Udelv to test a similar delivery process in Arizona.
This isn’t Nuro’s first major team-up either. The startup worked with Kroger in 2018 to test autonomous grocery delivery with its R1 vehicle (an earlier version). Moving into 2020, Nuro will continue testing with Kroger while also adding partnerships with both Walmart and Domino’s. Since its inception, the startup has raised more than $1 billion.
As autonomous vehicles and automated delivery continue to improve and expand, this partnership could prove highly beneficial for both sides.