Gatik, a Silicon Valley autonomous delivery startup, has been operating two fully autonomous trucks for Walmart deliveries since August. Walmart said that it had started using driverless trucks for its online grocery business to help increase capacity and improve efficiency. The trucks have operated for 12 hours at a time within a 7-mile loop.
Walmart’s senior VP Tom Ward said in a news release, “We’re thrilled to be working with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone. 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.”
Gatik has been loading their trucks with Walmart’s online grocery orders from a Walmart fulfillment center known as a “dark store.” From there, the orders are taken to a Bentonville, Arkansas, Walmart Neighborhood grocery store. Bentonville serves as the headquarters for Walmart.
The program received approval from the Arkansas State Highway Commission and began in December of last year. This past summer, the safety driver was removed from the program.
The joint venture between Walmart and Gatik focuses on the middle mile, that is, transportation of goods and supplies within the supply chain, usually from the warehouse to the fulfillment center, or from the warehouse to the retailer.
Gautam Narang, CEO and founder of Gatik, commented, “Taking the driver out is the holy grail of this technology. Having the trust from the world’s largest retailer has been a massive boost for what we do and is a validation for our technology, our solution, our progress.”
Walmart says the automated vehicles mean store associates will have more freedom to do “higher level” tasks, such as customer service and picking and packing orders for online customers.
Narang added, “The old architecture of delivery where you have a giant distribution center four or five hours away from the end consumer does not work anymore. Grocers are forced to set up these fulfillment centers close to the customer, and once you get close to the customer, you have to shrink the size of your warehouse. As the size shrinks, there is a growing need for doing repeated trips from the fulfillment centers to the pickup points. That’s where we come in.”
Gatik said its autonomous vehicle services shrink logistics costs by up to 30 percent for grocery businesses.
Narang added that the vehicles help to mitigate the supply chain labor shortage impacts currently affecting other industries besides the grocery industry. “This solution is very relevant across different supply chains, different kinds of logistics. It’s not just about the labor shortage. It’s all about increasing efficiency, helping with the operating costs.”
Walmart and Gatik are also testing the New Orleans region by utilizing an autonomous box truck with a safety driver to help move online orders from one of Walmart’s Supercenters to a pickup location.