Walmart is pressing ahead with its efforts to automate certain parts of its logistics operations, today announcing plans to conduct tests of completely driverless trucks along a leg of its supply chain in Arkansas. The move follows trials using the same trucks from startup Gatik with a safety driver onboard, as the company looks to expand the pilot to other US states in the new year.
From Amazon’s much-hyped delivery drones to Domino’s self-driving pizza delivery robots, the way we move goods from point A to point B could undergo serious change if some big-name players get their way. And Walmart is one of a number exploring the possibilities in this area.
Walmart has previously teamed up with Zipline to trial one-hour drone deliveries of health and wellness products, and trialed grocery delivery with autonomous pods from startup Nuro. When it comes to self-driving vehicles, the company has forged partnerships with Ford, Cruise and as mentioned, Palo Alto-based startup Gatik.
This collaboration kicked off in in July 2019 when Gatik began testing its autonomous vehicles with retail customers, including Walmart. The two have been trialing Gatik’s autonomous box trucks along a “middle mile” stretch of its supply chain, covering two miles (3.2 km) between a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Bentonville, Arkansas and one of the company’s fulfillment centers.
According to Walmart, the trucks have now covered more than 70,000 miles autonomously, but with a safety driver to watch over proceedings. The next phase of the trials will see these trips carried out without anybody onboard, beginning next year.
Meanwhile, Walmart is looking to build on its learnings through its work so far with Gatik by kicking off separate tests along a longer 20-mile (32 km) route in Louisiana. This will explore a different use case for Walmart, by ferrying goods from one of its larger stores to a customer pickup point. These trials will also kick offer next year, but will initially have safety driver onboard.