Ford Motor Co. is partnering with Walmart to test home delivery services early next year in an effort to learn consumer expectations that will shape development of driverless vehicle technology, the Dearborn-based automaker announced Wednesday.

While the partnership between the companies has begun, delivery of Walmart customer goods in Florida’s Miami-Dade County won’t begin until next year.

Ford plans to use drivers to deliver purchased goods to Walmart shoppers who will have no interaction with the drivers. The customer experiences – designed to mimic driverless delivery – will provide Ford a better understanding of what customers want as Ford technology teams develop robot cars to deliver goods.

“When you order online or with the Walmart app, it will thank you for your order and ask if you would be interested in participating in the project,” said Alan Hall, communications manager for Ford AV LLC. “These are random customers helping us develop our autonomous pilot project.”

Meanwhile, Walmart is trying to compete with Amazon.com, which is aggressively stepping up its delivery services and has included talk of using drones. Walmart posted on its corporate website, “For a Walmart customer who has just started using Grocery Pickup, it might seem like shopping can’t get much easier – just order online, pull up to a parking space, and wait for an associate to load the items.”

While Walmart has made no commitment with Ford in the long term, the alliance is significant.

Ivan Drury, senior analyst at Edmunds, said, “Joining forces with Walmart automatically taps a huge pool of customers and will help provide all sorts of scenarios for testing.”

Stephanie Brinley, principal analyst at IHS Markit, agreed.

“Ford is already looking at how people interact with autonomous delivery vehicles. This is an expansion of a program already started there, but it applies to a different type of delivery. Hopefully, in doing testing, they can find where opportunities and challenges might be. For Walmart, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” she said.

Brinley said: “Walmart needs to look at changes in consumer expectations. They need to understand just as much as the automaker needs to understand.”

Ford is collaborating with various local and national companies to deliver flowers, tacos, dry cleaning, and other products, said Brian Wolf, director of business development for Ford AV.

“Now, it’s time to explore how grocery delivery can help expand access to fresh food and other retail items for people all over the country,” he said.

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