Since August, the companies have deployed the fully autonomous trucks without a safety driver for a daily, seven-mile delivery route between a Walmart "dark store", or fulfillment center, and a Neighborhood Market retail store in Bentonville, Arkansas, where the retailer's headquarters is located.
The route, which involves navigating intersections, traffic lights and merging on dense urban roads, is the first ever on the so-called middle mile to remove a safety driver.
Walmart and Gatik received approval to remove the safety driver from the trucks in December 2020 from the Arkansas State Highway Commission, following the completion of 18 months of successful operations.
"Through our work with Gatik, we’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between our stores," Tom Ward, Walmart U.S. vice president of last mile, said in a statement. "We’re thrilled to be working with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone in our home state of Arkansas and look forward to continuing to use this technology to serve Walmart customers with speed."
Since the start of Gatik's commercial operations in 2019, the firm has achieved a 100% safety record across multiple operational sites in North America, including Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Ontario. Bentonville is the only city where Gatik is currently operating trucks without a safety driver. In addition, Gatik and Walmart are currently running similar delivery tests in New Orleans with a safety driver behind the wheel.
"Our deployment in Bentonville is not a one-time demonstration," Gatik CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang added. "These are frequent, revenue-generating, daily runs that our trucks are completing safely in a range of conditions on public roads, demonstrating the commercial and technical advantages of fully driverless operations on the middle mile. We’re thrilled to enable Walmart’s customers to reap the benefits."
The partnership comes as a growing number of retailers are transitioning to a "hub and spoke" distribution model, in which a single distribution hub is used to serve multiple nearby stores, amid ongoing supply chain challenges. A spokesperson for Gatik told FOX Business its technology can reduce logistics costs by as much as 30% for a grocery business.
|THE KROGER CO.
Walmart isn't the first retailer to utilize self-driving technology for deliveries.
Kroger announced a partnership with Nuro in 2018 to utilize self-driving technology for grocery deliveries in Scottsdale, Arizona. However, Kroger and Nuro's partnership involved minivans rather than box trucks. Kroger also announced plans in June 2020 for three delivery fulfillment centers that would utilize automation and artificial intelligence technology from Ocado.