This week, Walmart claimed a first by announcing it had been doing driverless runs between a dark store and one of its retail outlets in its hometown of Bentonville, AR, since August, courtesy of technology partner Gatik which powers the driverless box trucks.
Walmart said in a release the driverless trucks are running “consistent, repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days per week on public roads.”
“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 vice president of last mile at Walmart U.S. “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 move is part of Walmart’s multi-billion investment in a hub-and-spoke model of local distribution combining dark stores, automation and last mile solutions to handle local order fulfillment as close as possible to demand. It’s a model being replicated across retail as companies look to make their supply chain and inventory management as lean and efficient as possible.
Best Buy, for example, has converted some stores in its hometown of Minneapolis into hybrid facilities by shrinking sales floor space and increasing on-site fulfillment operations.
Network strategies are being reimagined as old models are incapable of meeting the twin imperatives of massive ecommerce demand and supply chain backups. And autonomous vehicles are increasingly seen as a cost-effective way to power repeatable middle-mile routes in the midst of a longstanding driver shortage exacerbated by the pandemic and worker disincentives.
“This milestone signifies a revolutionary breakthrough for the autonomous trucking industry,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder, Gatik. “Our deployment in Bentonville is not a one-time demonstration. 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. We’re thrilled to enable Walmart’s customers to reap the benefits.”
Last month, truck leasing, logistics and fleet management provider Ryder said it has invested in Gatik, whose technology will power autonomous middle mile deliveries for retail and ecommerce clients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, initially equipping 20 leased Ryder box trucks for the purpose.
Meanwhile, in the autonomous last mile, Walmart earlier this year launched a pilot for driverless delivery in Scottsdale, AZ through a partnership with Cruise, which is majority owned by General Motors.