Walmart recently announced a new pilot program with autonomous vehicle company Gatik, in which a self-driving vehicle will move customer orders on a two-mile route in Bentonville, Ark., between two Walmart stores. In June 2019, the companies announced they were working together to deploy autonomous vehicles for business-to-business short-haul logistics operations.
“We’re testing new and innovative capabilities that will make us even better and shape the future of retail for everyone,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of digital operations for Walmart U.S., in a statement announcing the pilot. “We aim to learn more about the logistics of adding autonomous vehicles into our online grocery ecosystem, operation process changes, and more opportunities to incorporate this emerging technology.”
Gatik said urban logistics is often the most expensive part of a business’ supply chain. The company’s light commercial trucks and van bring Level 4 autonomy for B2B short-haul logistics, including third-party logistics companies, and distributors of consumer goods, food, beverages, medical and pharmaceutical supplies, and auto parts.
“There is a huge gap between autonomous Class 8 big rig trucks, which can only operate on highways, and smaller automated vehicles such as sidewalk robots and Nuro vehicles, which are restricted by operation speed, capacity, distance, and the curb,” said Reilly Brennan, founding general partner at Trucks Venture Capital. “Gatik fills the critical ‘middle mile’ part of logistics, which is only becoming more valuable as a layer in the $800 billion logistics ecosystem.”
Gatik raised $4.5 million last year in seed round funding, which led to the development of its technology and secured launches of additional commercial services.
Walmart’s Ward said Arkansas passed legislation in March that would allow for autonomous vehicles to operate in the state. He added that the company has been exploring a few pilot projects with self-driving car companies that include both customer delivery, as well as transporting goods between stores.
“We’re always out to help our customers, and that means helping them save time and money,” said Ward. “So, we’re using our position of strength to reinvent the shopping experience to take us, and busy families, well into the future.”