Walmart and one of its parnters, Gatik, announced that starting from next year they'll launch fully driverless delivery trucks on a specific two-mile (3.2 km) route in Arkansas.
The Walmart/Gatik team started this project in 2019 when it launched a driverless delivery truck service, manned with a human safety driver, between its store in Bentonville and a fulfillment center in the state.
After 70,000 miles (112,650 km) of logged driving with a person there just for safety measures, the companies now deem the system safe enough to power itself sans-human, going completely driverless on that route.
This next step will make Walmart and Gatik one of the first partnerships to operate such a driverless system.
"Our trials with Gatik are just two of many use cases we’re testing with autonomous vehicles, and we’re excited to continue learning how we might incorporate them in a delivery ecosystem," said Tom Ward, SVP of Customer Support at Walmart.
The autonomous driving startup, Gatik, pointed out that, in part, thanks to its simplified approach, the system is good to go. Its autonomous vehicles operate on a set route, minimizing the number of factors that could block its path.
"It’s safe and efficient because it enables us to constrain the challenge of autonomy, thereby heavily over-optimizing our delivery routes and minimizing edge-cases," explained Gautam Narang, Gatik's co-founder and CEO.
After Arkansas' route success, the team plans on expanding to Louisiana where the route will be an ambitious 20 miles (32 km), between New Orleans and Metairie. The driverless trucks will move items between a Walmart Supercenter and a location where customers can pick up their online orders.
This longer route will have safety drivers, to begin with.
Walmart has been jumping on a number of exciting and futuristic bandwagons lately. it paired up with Zipline to start drone deliveries in September, and interestingly, it removed robotic inventory machines as humans performed better — but that doesn't mean the company is staying stuck in the present, as can be seen with its partnership with Gatik.