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Walmart Nuro driverless vehicle - Copy.jpg Walmart/Nuro
Walmart plans a trial of the Nuro unmanned vehicles for grocery delivery from select stores in Houston.

Walmart tests grocery delivery with Nuro self-driving vehicles

Retail giant plans new pilot of AI-powered, robotics technology

In another experiment with artificial intelligence (AI) technology, Walmart plans to pilot grocery delivery using Nuro autonomous vehicles in Houston.

Walmart and Nuro said Tuesday that, under the test, the delivery service will become available in the coming months to Houston customers who have opted into the program. The pilot will use the unmanned Nuro R2 delivery vehicle — which only hauls products and has no onboard driver or passengers — as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses to bring Walmart online grocery orders to customers’ homes. Both vehicles are powered by Nuro’s self-driving software and hardware.

“Nuro’s vision of using robotics to improve lives runs parallel with Walmart’s mission of helping customers live better. Through the Houston-based pilot, Walmart aims to develop, refine and continue learning how to offer the best end-to-end customer experience,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of digital operations for Walmart U.S., said in a blog post Tuesday.

“Our unparalleled size and scale have allowed us to steer grocery delivery to the front doors of millions of families — and design a roadmap for the future of the industry,” he explained. “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.”

Walmart Nuro autonomous vehicle_motion.gifIn the initial test, Walmart online grocery customers must opt-in to the Nuro-powered delivery service. (Image courtesy of Nuro)

Mountain View, Calif.-based Nuro, a provider of robotics and AI, said its self-driving, electric vehicles will bring online grocery orders filled at select Houston Walmart stores to local customers’ homes. Plans call for the service to initially be available to customers who opt in and then to be expanded to the general public later in 2020.

Nuro noted that Walmart moves products to 200 million customers across more than 11,000 stores worldwide, and its autonomous vehicles can “act as an extension of this modern supply chain.”

“Walmart’s dedication to its customers aligns with our desire to help people save time and money while making shopping easier. We are excited to join forces with Walmart to help provide the best possible delivery experience to customers,” stated Cosimo Leipold, head of partner relations at Nuro. “Working alongside Walmart gives us an incredible opportunity to improve our door-to-door operations, serve Walmart’s loyal customers, and continue to integrate and engage with the Houston community.”

Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart has been engaged in a number of tests of autonomous vehicles for delivery of online orders of groceries and other items.

In late July, the retail giant said it was working with Gatik on a “middle-mile” logistics pilot use the tech startup’s self-driving Ford Transit Connect vans to help move goods from the Walmart Supercenter in Rogers, Ark., to a Walmart Neighborhood Market in nearby Bentonville. And in February, FedEx Corp. said it partnered with Walmart, Target and Walgreens to test last-mile delivery of small-shipment online orders via the FedEx SameDay Bot, a wheeled, shoulder-high delivery robot.

Other Walmart partners in pilots of self-driving vehicles for online grocery delivery have included Udelv (in Surprise, Ariz.), Ford (in Miami-Dade County, Fla.) and Waymo. In the test with Waymo (formerly Google’s self-driving car project), conducted in Chandler, Ariz., autonomous vehicles pick up customers at their homes and take them to the store to collect their orders.

“We’re already bringing the best of Walmart to our customers through grocery pickup and delivery,” Ward added. “By continuing to test autonomous vehicle capabilities, we’re better able to understand the path self-driving technology can take us down the road.”

By the end of this year, Walmart expects to offer free same-day grocery pickup from more than 3,100 stores and same-day grocery delivery from over 1,600 stores. The retailer said these services have been a catalyst for e-commerce sales, which surged 41% in the company’s most recently reported quarter.

The nation’s largest supermarket operator, The Kroger Co., earlier this year began its second pilot of the Nuro self-driving vehicles in Houston. The companies, which announced their partnership in June 2018, began testing autonomous delivery at a Fry’s Food Store in Scottsdale, Ariz., in August 2018 and then went live with the service that December.

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