Waymo: Partnership with Walmart in Phoenix

Waymo has announced new partnerships with Walmart, among others, to enable autonomous mobility in Phoenix, AZ. 

The frontrunner of the autonomous vehicles race has today announced, through a post on the Medium that it will be partnering up with Walmart, AutoNation, Element Hotel, DDR Corp., and Avis to offer autonomous shuttle services in the metropolitan areas of Phoenix, AZ. According to the post, Waymo's early rider programme has allowed the company to understand the needs of passengers better - most use the service to run errands, shop for groceries, commute toward, head to dinner, or fix their personal vehicles. 

We’ve tailored our partnerships to meet the top rider needs; in fact, the partnerships below represent eight of the top ten activities our riders do when they get in a Waymo.
— Waymo

The first pilot to be launched is that with Walmart, by the end of this week. The programme, which will be available to Waymo's Early Riders, will provide discounts on online grocery shopping and will dispatch a Waymo vehicle to the shopper's residence, drive them to Walmart while their shopping is being bagged, and drive them back home after they pick up their shopping. 

Some of the other programmes to be launched will include autonomous commuting to business meetings for VIP guests of the Element Hotel, loaner Waymo vehicles for people getting their personal cars serviced at AutoNation, as well as a pick-up/drop-off ride for people choosing Avis for their rent-a-car experiences. The service will be available mostly in metropolitan areas of Phoenix, such as Chandler. The partnership with DDR Corp. will allow autonomous rides for shopping and dining to and from the Ahwatukee Foothills Towne Center, a prominent shopping mall in Phoenix.

With Uber ending its AV testing programme in Arizona after a fatal accident last March, Waymo is effectively taking advantage of its monopoly power to establish itself as the go-to autonomous shuttle service in Phoenix. It is presumed that the services will be run using Waymo/Chrysler Pacifica minivans - Waymo has also partnered up with Jaguar to use its electric I-PACE, but the Jaguar-made SUV is unlikely to be widely used by Waymo before the beginning of 2019 (Waymo's I-PACE was first spotted in the Bay Area two weeks ago, and it was not yet operating in autonomous mode). According to the announcement on the Medium, these partnerships have the potential to be scaled to the national level (as these companies operate nation-wide), and the current pilots will serve as a learning opportunity for Waymo, before it launches more widely. 

The partnerships will also help Waymo tackle a fundamental problem with autonomous vehicles - the lack of trust from the public. A recent survey by AAA revealed that almost 75% of Americans are scared to ride in an AV. By letting Arizonians try its shuttles, Waymo will hopefully manage to achieve two goals: firstly, convince the general public that autonomous driving can be a safe way to move about, and secondly, show everyone AVs can ensure inclusion for vulnerable groups of the population who either lack access to other means of transportation or lack the skills to drive. As Drew Harwell of the Washington Post pointed out, it may not be the "sexiest use of robot-cars", but it will open up the world for many of us. 

Photo Credit: Zombeite

Andrew Kyprianides