- Waymo, the autonomous vehicle (AV) arm of Google parent company Alphabet, announced it is beginning a pilot program with Walmart in Phoenix to take customers to and from its stores to pick up groceries.
- The company is also partnering with AutoNation, Avis, DDR Corp. and Element Hotel, lending AVs to customers. Initially, it is limited to the 400 members of its early rider program.
- "We know from our early riders that most of their rides are to run errands, shop for groceries, commute to work, head to dinner or fix their personal vehicles," Waymo wrote in a blog post announcing the partnerships.
Waymo was one of the first companies to put AVs on the streets, launching last fall in Phoenix to test how they would carry humans. Since then, it has also deployed a fleet of driverless trucks in Atlanta to carry freight to one of Google’s data centers and partnered with Fiat Chrysler, which will supply its AV fleet with 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans. It is all clearly building toward what The Atlantic described as the company’s "secret world" for AVs, set to partly culminate in the world’s first AV ride-hailing service.
Waymo said these latest partnerships have been tailored to meet "top rider needs," and these partnerships "represent eight of the top ten activities our riders do when they get in a Waymo," the company said. Using AVs for convenience and everyday tasks is an effective way to get people accustomed to them, especially as polls have shown there is a certain level of distrust among corners of the public.
Waymo clearly has big ambitions for these partnerships. Its blog post promised that "what we learn from these programs will give us a network of partners when we launch in new cities down the road." As one of the major players in the burgeoning AV space, Waymo has set its stall out by partnering early with major companies. Getting people to the grocery store in an AV is a small step but could be a significant one for widespread AV usage.