See how self-driving cars prepare for the real world inside a private testing facility owned by Google's autonomous car company, Waymo.
Waymo's latest trial project could be a sign of things to come in the future of shopping and self-driving cars.
The Alphabet-owned autonomous car company is teaming up with Walmart and several other businesses in the Phoenix area to give customers free rides to and from their destinations.
Participants in Waymo's early rider program — they number about 400 within a 100-square-mile section of Phoenix — can place orders for groceries on Walmart.com and get a Waymo ride to the local retail store while their order is being prepared. Then, Waymo will return them home.
Waymo, which began in 2009 as Google's self-driving car project, will also give customers at area AutoNation repair centers rides while their cars are being serviced, and assist Avis Budget Group customers in Phoenix with rides to pick up or drop off rental cars, with the two Chandler, Ariz. locations as the first sites.
Also announced: Waymo rides for customers wanting to shop or go to restaurants in the Ahwatukee Foothills Towne Center, and transportation to select guests at the Element Hotel, both in Chandler, Arizona.
Technology has already made shopping easier for those who can't always get to the grocery store, for instance, letting shoppers place online orders for home deliveries from Amazon, Walmart and other competitors. But self-driving cars could eventually be another option for those who can't drive to get out of the house and shop.
"These businesses are national and what we learn from these programs will give us a network of partners when we launch in new cities down the road," the company said in a blog post Wednesday.
Walmart vice president Tom Ward discussed the pilot project in a blog post of his own. "Our personal shoppers get to work meticulously picking customers’ orders based on their pickup times. Waymo does the rest! They transport customers to and from pickup, and all the while, those customers can text, nap, work… you name it!"
This is another sign of Waymo's expansion in the self-driving car competition. Two months ago, the autonomous car company said it would ramp up its partnership with Fiat Chrysler with a plan to eventually have 62,000 Pacifica Hybrid minivans in its fleet. That came after the company ordered up to 20,000 Jaguar SUVs with delivery to begin in 2020.
Self-driving cars have gotten attention recently, not just for their gee-whiz technology. Waymo vehicles have been involved in a number of crashes since the Phoenix-area project launched, but police have determined all were human-caused. In March, an Uber vehicle in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel hit and killed a 49-year-old woman in Tempe in March.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2LOtYUvOriginal Article