Waymo and Honda May Partner to Co-Develop Autonomous Delivery Vehicle

The companies began discussing a partnership in 2016.

Honda North America

Waymo and Honda began discussing a self-driving car partnership in late 2016, and now it seems those talks may bear fruit. 

Bloomberg reports that the two companies are nearing a deal to develop an autonomous delivery vehicle. This would be Waymo's third automaker partnership, following deals with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Jaguar Land Rover.

Unlike its existing partnerships, in which it modifies off-the-shelf vehicles for autonomous driving, Waymo may work with Honda to design a vehicle from the ground up. CEO John Krafcik told Bloomberg that the planned delivery service won't take the form of a "traditional car driven on roads."

Krafcik also hinted that the delivery vehicle could carry both people and goods, may be smaller than a traditional delivery truck, and may not have any manual controls, according to Bloomberg. Designing something from scratch may be the only way to go since Honda does not have any cargo-carrying commercial vehicles in its U.S. lineup.

Waymo's first commercial use of self-driving cars will be a ride-hailing service launching in Phoenix, Arizona, later this year, but it makes sense for the company to keep delivery services open as a possibility. Ford self-driving cars are already delivering Domino's pizzas and other items in a Miami pilot program, and startup Nuro is developing an autonomous delivery vehicle of its own. Toyota plans to put its boxy e-Palette concept into production as a vehicle for both passengers and cargo.

Delivery services represent a lower bar for autonomous-driving technology than ride-hailing services, which tend to get most of the attention. Delivery services don't require convincing people to ride in self-driving cars, after all. In the wake of a fatal crash involving an Uber autonomous car, delivery services could be a lower-profile, less-controversial way to introduce self-driving cars to the public.