Photo courtesy of Waymo

Waymo, whose driverless minivans are already shuttling a limited number of passengers in suburban Phoenix, Arizona will soon begin delivering packages for UPS as part of a new strategic partnership announced on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Widespread use of robo-taxis is still years away, but automated trucks are quickly gaining momentum toward deployment. Waymo's ambition is to use the same self-driving technology in its minivans — what it calls the Waymo driver — to automate big rigs and delivery trucks like the ones UPS uses every day.

Details: In the first phase of their partnership, Waymo's self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans will shuttle packages from UPS Stores in the Phoenix area to the UPS hub in Tempe.

  • Waymo vehicles will drive autonomously with a trained operator on board to monitor vehicle operation.
  • The pilot will begin this quarter, with both companies working closely to develop a long-term plan.

Background: Waymo is already moving goods and not just people.

  • Last year, it started using Waymo minivans to deliver car parts for AutoNation, a business partner that helps manage the fleet of Pacificas.
  • Now, in a truly commercial deal, UPS will pay Waymo to deliver its packages.

What they're saying: Waymo sees four potential markets for its self-driving technology: ride-hailing, long-haul trucking, package delivery and eventually, personally owned vehicles.

  • "Right now the movement of things is a bigger market than the people ride-hailing market," Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in an interview with Axios. "But in 10 years, the movement of people with automated ride hailing will be substantially larger."

UPS sees an opportunity to learn how to safely integrate self-driving technology into its operations, and how to use autonomous shuttles to make more rapid turnarounds in anticipation of on-demand delivery.

  • "This is part of the learning process," said Bala Ganesh, vice president of the advanced technology group at UPS, adding: "We have more things in the hopper."

Background: UPS has been delivering cargo with self-driving trucks from TuSimple since last May, and took a minority stake in the company last August.

Go deeper: Waymo's progress on AVs seems reminiscent of Wright brothers

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