Ford teams up with Walmart to study consumer response to autonomous delivery

Ford has announced a new partnership with Walmart to study how consumers want to use robotic delivery services, according to The Detroit News.

Automobile manufacturers including Ford face significant challenges as they respond to a shift from predominantly individual-owned vehicles to mobility as a service. In a similar tidal change, grocery and big-box stores such as Walmart, Kroger, Target, and Kohls are working proactivity to figure out the services, delivery systems, and anything else they can use to respond to Amazon’s growing competitive threat for all things retail.

Ford executive and personnel from Argo A.I., Ford’s autonomous vehicle software builder, will report this week on progress with self-driving cars including the company’s current implementation plans, and extending to 2021.

The focus of Ford’s partnership with Walmart will be consumer research, not building and dispatching driverless delivery trucks and buggies. Against the background of tight budgets, cost-cutting, and financial restructuring in a changing industry, automotive companies aren’t in a position to invest in new technologies and wait for consumers to catch up.

The more that stakeholders in self-driving delivery services can learn about what consumers want, the smarter their autonomous investment will appear later on.

“Like us, Walmart believes that self-driving vehicles have an important role to play in the future of delivery, and that true success comes from first learning how individuals want to use them in their daily lives,” said Brian Wolf, Ford’s autonomous vehicle business lead, in a statement released by Ford. “Together, we’ll be gathering crucial data about consumer preferences and learning the best way we can conveniently connect people with the goods they need.”

Last year Ford partnered with Domino’s Pizza in a similar but likely smaller study in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The purpose of the Domino’s research was to measure customer reactions to pizzas delivered by an apparently driverless car.

Argo A.I. must be on a good track with its autonomous vehicle software system. The Detroit News reported earlier this week that Volkswagen AG might invest upward of $1 billion in the company. Last year Ford bought a majority position in Argo A.I. for $1 billion.  Talk of a joint venture or collaboration between Ford and Volkswagen points to the potential cost savings that can be achieved by developing autonomous vehicle technology jointly.

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