Udelv, a startup that uses self-driving cars as delivery vehicles, announced ta CES 2019 that it will partner with Walmart on grocery delivery. The startup also announced that it will work with Baidu on the Chinese tech giant’s latest open-source autonomous driving platform, dubbed Apollo 3.5.
Udelv’s bright orange vans have been delivering groceries in select locations for just under a year. The startup first signed a deal with the Draeger’s Market chain in the San Francisco Bay Area, and later began delivering groceries in Oklahoma City. Udelv claims to have completed 1,200 deliveries and said it will deploy up to 100 vans in 2019.
This isn’t Walmart’s first attempt to use autonomous delivery vehicles. In November 2018, the retail giant signed a deal with Ford to create an autonomous delivery service. Ford is working with Postmates and Domino’s alongside Walmart.
The startup is also working with Baidu on the Chinese firm’s Apollo 3.5 platform. Baidu introduced Apollo in 2017 with the idea that multiple companies collaborating on an open-source software platform could advance autonomous-driving tech more quickly than they could working separately. Baidu chose the name Apollo in reference to the NASA lunar program, as it views the development of self-driving cars as a comparable technical challenge. Udelv plans to use Apollo as the basis for new algorithms to run its delivery vehicle, dubbed Newton.
Other companies are working on autonomous delivery vehicles. General Motors’ Cruise division recently signed a deal with DoorDash in San Francisco, and startup Nuro is working with supermarket chain Kroger to deliver groceries in Arizona. Toyota is developing the e-Palette, a boxy autonomous vehicle that can carry passengers or cargo. Delivery services may be an easier route to mass deployment of self-driving cars than the other most-discussed use case: ride-hailing.
Delivery services allows companies to deploy autonomous cars without having to convince members of the public to ride in them. That means companies can operate cars, and make money off them, regardless of the public’s attitude toward the technology.
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