Walmart is Using Self-Driving Trucks in a 7 Mile Delivery Loop

Walmart is Using Self-Driving Trucks in a 7 Mile Delivery Loop

The trucks themselves are multi-temperature box vehicles operated by Gatik, a short-haul logistics company focused on autonomous delivery. Their Bentonville route offers plenty of opportunity for the trucks to prove their versatility in a range of necessary applications, including intersections, traffic signals, and merging onto densely-packed roads. In completing the loop several times per day, the trucks are able to expedite order fulfillment for Walmart customers.

“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,” said Tom Ward, senior VP of last mile at Walmart US, in the companies’ press release.

Walmart first announced its plan to start utilizing driverless vehicles last year. The retail giant had just finished an 18-month stint partnering with Gatik to experiment with staffed self-driving vehicles, and those involved in the project felt they were about ready to put the trucks out on real deliveries. Despite Gatik’s 100-percent safety record, this was a big leap; while a safety driver had been on every test trip, Walmart’s endgame meant removing said driver from the middle mile (AKA transportation between fulfillment warehouses and retail stores) of a commercial delivery route for the first time in the world.

In order to empty the cab, Walmart had to obtain approval from the Arkansas State Highway Commission, who provided the green light in December of last year. Anticipating local apprehension regarding autonomous vehicles, Gatik proactively reached out to state and municipal authorities as well as emergency services to create a stakeholder engagement plan. They also intend on holding informational workshops about self-driving technology to build and maintain local buy-in.

Walmart and Gatik hope to continue building out middle mile efficiencies as this part of the fulfillment process becomes more and more crucial. As the companies point out, urbanization has brought attention to shorter routes in recent years; routes under 100 miles have risen by 37 percent in the last ten years, and a majority of delivery routes are under 500 miles. Consumers also expect rapid delivery now more than ever, thanks largely to Amazon Prime and major retailers who offer same-day pick-up or drop-off. Regardless of whether someone is fully comfortable with self-driving delivery trucks on the road, they’re likely to find Walmart’s initiative worthwhile when they get their groceries while they’re still cold.

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