November 9, 2021: -Walmart said Monday it has started using fully driverless trucking in its online grocery business, aiming to increase capacity and reduce inefficiencies.
Since August, Walmart and Silicon Valley start-up Gatik said they’d operated two autonomous box trucks without having the safety driver on a 7-mile loop daily for 12 hours. The Batik trucks are loaded with online grocery orders from a Walmart fulfillment center called a “dark store.” The charges are then taken to a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered.
The program started in December 2020, getting approval from the Arkansas State Highway Commission. The safety driver is pulling over the summer. The partnership is focused on the middle mile of transporting goods within the supply chain, often from a warehouse to a fulfillment center or a warehouse to a retailer.
“We’re thrilled to work with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone,” Walmart senior vice president Tom Ward said in a news release about the project.
“Taking the driver out is the holy grail of this technology.” Batik CEO Gautam Narang, who founded the company in 2017, told CNBC. “Having the trust from the largest retailer of the world has been a massive boost for what we do and is a validation for our technology, our solution, our progress.”
Walmart, the nation’s biggest seller of grocery items, tested the Gatik autonomous vehicles as part of its transition to a “hub and spoke” model for grocery delivery where dark stores are close to the consumer and used to serve several retail stores. Walmart said the use of automated vehicles would also allow store associates more freedom to perform “higher level” tasks, which include picking and packing online orders and customer assistance.
“The old architecture of delivery where you have a giant distribution center four or five hours away from the end consumer does not work anymore. Grocers are forced to set up these fulfillment centers close to the customer, and once you get close to the customer, you have to shrink the size of your warehouse,” Narang said. “As the size shrinks, there is a growing need for making repeated trips from the fulfillment centers to the pickup points. That’s where we come in.”
The Kroger supermarket chain testing autonomous delivery with start-up Nuro since the year 2018 and said it’d completed thousands of “last mile” deliveries in the Houston, Texas, area. Kroger uses automated warehouses to launch online grocery delivery in Florida and other states that do not have brick-and-mortar locations.
Walmart and Gatik run similar tests in the New Orleans area using an electric box truck with a safety driver to move online grocery orders from a Walmart Supercenter to a customer pickup location.