UPDATED 12:15 EST / JULY 25 2018

waymo EMERGING TECH

Waymo teams up with Walmart to widen the use of self-driving vehicles

While Google LLC watchers have their eyes turned to Cloud Next, the company’s Waymo division is pressing forward with its effort to put self-driving vehicles on the road.

The group today unveiled a set of partnerships focused on testing new ways for consumers to use autonomous vehicles in their lives. The most significant among them is a pilot program with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that will make Waymo’s self-driving cars in Arizona available for grocery runs.

To lure early adopters, the companies plan to offer unspecified discounts on trips. Specifically, Waymo will let consumers hail rides to Walmart stores at a reduced price when they go pick up groceries ordered on the retail giant’s website. The self-driving vehicle assigned to the user will then take them back home.

The pilot program is set to launch next week in the greater Phoenix area, which is where Waymo has been testing its autonomous shuttles for the past year or so. The region is also the site of the four other partner-supported projects the group announced today.

One is a collaboration with mall operator DDR Corp. to offer shoppers rides to and from its Ahwatukee Foothills Towne Center in the city of Chandler. Another partnership, with the Phoenix suburb’s Element Hotel, will put self-driving shuttles at the disposal of select guests. The remaining pilot programs, in turn, are set to involve two of Waymo’s existing maintenance partners.

Car dealership chain AutoNation Inc. and rental agency Avis Budget Group Inc., which service the Alphabet Inc. division’s self-driving cars in Arizona, will begin offering the shuttles to some clients. The companies plan to provide Waymo vehicles to customers who are waiting on a rental or a vehicle repair. 

In a blog post, Waymo said the partnerships cover eight of the top 10 most common ways users have been using its vehicles since the start of the Arizona shuttle pilot last year. The initiatives should give the group an opportunity to gain new insight into how it could make self-driving vehicles more attracting to consumers. Not to mention, alliances like the one with Walmart may in the long run open up new revenue opportunities.

Photo: Waymo

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