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Brown goes autonomous: Waymo and UPS partner on package-delivery pilot

Waymo and UPS delivery pilot program

Waymo’s fleet of prototype self-driving cars will soon carry packages in addition to transporting people. Waymo and UPS are partnering on a pilot package-delivery program in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The pilot program will start this quarter, according to a Waymo blog post.

The pilot program will use the same Chrysler Pacifica minivans as the Waymo One ridesharing service, which also operates in the Phoenix metro area. The minivans will pick up packages at UPS Stores around Phoenix, and take them to a UPS hub in nearby Tempe, Arizona, according to Waymo. Cars will drive autonomously, but with a trained human operator on board at all times in case of problems, Waymo said.

Waymo wants to use the UPS partnership to demonstrate the versatility of its autonomous driving system, which the company refers to as the “Waymo Driver.” Waymo is marketing the system to other companies, rather than building complete cars itself.

While Chrysler has provided Pacifica minivans for use as test vehicles, and Jaguar has done the same with the I-Pace electric SUV, no company has said it will buy Waymo’s tech outright. Regarding increased collaboration with UPS, Waymo would only say that the two companies are working together “with the goal of jointly developing a long-term plan.”

Waymo isn’t the only company that wants to use self-driving cars as delivery vehicles. Ford has run multiple pilot programs with Domino’s, Postmates, and Walmart, while General Motors’ Cruise division has inked a deal to deliver food for DoorDash. Startup Nuro has developed a purpose-built autonomous delivery vehicle, which is currently ferrying groceries from Kroger supermarkets to customers in Arizona and Texas, as well as from Walmart stores in the Houston metro area. Toyota has discussed building an autonomous vehicle called the e-Palette that will be able to switch between carrying passengers and cargo.

Given the public’s ambivalence toward self-driving cars, delivery services may be a more realistic option for the numerous companies developing the tech. Delivery services put cars on the road, accruing the promised safety benefits and, theoretically, proving that the tech works — all without having to convince anyone to ride in the autonomous cars.

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