Walmart has made an investment in a self-driving technology startup. Cruise plans to improve the last-mile distribution ecosystem.

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Walmart wishes to expand the last-mile distribution ecosystem.

Walmart’s presence is expanding beyond the walls of its classic white-and-blue stores and into the world of self-driving vehicles. According to the company’s president and CEO, John Furner, the national supermarket retailer has agreed to spend millions of dollars in Cruise, GM’s self-driving vehicle technology subsidiary.

We don’t know exactly how much Walmart chipped in, but its contributions (combined with cash from other “institutional investors”) have raised Cruise’s latest funding total to $2.75 billion from $2 billion. In other words, Walmart’s portion of the cash infusion is somewhere between $1 and $750 million, though we’d expect it to be on the higher end since the company felt the need to announce the investment publicly.

Aside from the specific totals, this is a smart decision on Walmart’s part. As distribution systems begin to play an increasingly important role in our daily lives (particularly in light of the current pandemic), businesses such as Walmart have begun to see automated vehicles as a valuable tool for business expansion.

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Late last year, the organisation collaborated with Cruise to test a small-scale self-driving delivery service in Scottsdale, Arizona, using only Cruise’s fleet of all-electric EVs. Customers could place shopping orders from their nearest Walmarts and have Cruise’s vehicles autonomously drive to their home and drop off the goods contact-free as part of the pilot.

Given that Walmart is willing to pour more money into Cruise, we might conclude that the pilot programme was a success. Cruise’s “unmatched” driverless testing, “differentiated business model,” and “shared commitment” to a zero-emissions future, according to Furner, have impressed the group. Since there are no human drivers to think about (for better or worse), such a programme should be flexible and cost-effective to run.

Indeed, scalability is just what Walmart is aiming for with its new acquisition. By assisting Cruise, the shopping empire will gain the ability to expand its “last mile ecosystem” in a manner that it believes will help both shoppers and  the planet.

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