Gatik autonomous delivery trucks deployed by Walmart are now operating daily, without a safety driver, in Bentonville, Ark. The multi-temperature self-driving box trucks have been navigating a “complex urban route” between a Walmart dark store and a Neighborhood Market since August.
According to Gatik, this is the first time that an autonomous trucking company has removed the safety driver from a commercial delivery route on the “middle mile” anywhere in the world. The development could signal a turning point in autonomous vehicle delivery at a time when a labor crunch is putting pressure on retail and other industries across the U.S.
“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, SVP of Last Mile at Walmart U.S. 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.”
The fully driverless operation involves repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days a week on public roads. The trucks regularly navigate intersections, traffic lights and merge onto busy roads. (A video demonstration can be viewed here.)
“Our deployment in Bentonville is not a one-time demonstration,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and Co-founder of Gatik in a statement. “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.”
Walmart first partnered with Gatik in 2019. In December 2020, following the completion of 18 months of successful operations, Gatik and Walmart received the Arkansas State Highway Commission’s first-ever approval to remove the safety driver from the autonomous trucks. As part of its roadmap to operating completely driverless, Gatik used a stakeholder engagement strategy involving state and local leadership and emergency services, and the company said it will continue to hold ongoing informational workshops.
Gatik focuses exclusively on fixed, repeatable delivery routes using technology that is purpose-built for B2B short-haul logistics. The company credited this “constrained operational design domain” as the primary reason it has been able to remove the safety driver more quickly than other autonomous vehicle operations in the passenger or B2C spaces.
The partnership with Gatik is not Walmart’s only autonomous delivery trial. The retailer also launched a multi-city trial with Argo AI in September 2021 for autonomous home delivery of customer orders.