Self-driving vehicles have been a large focus and topic of discussion within the transportation industry for the past few years. Now, retail giant Walmart is entering the game. Walmart recently announced they were partnering with autonomous vehicle company Gatik for a delivery pilot program.
The pilot program will use robovans from Gatik, a Palo Alto-based startup. The robovans will move groceries from a Walmart distribution center in Rogers, Arkansas to one of the company’s retail stores in nearby Bentonville. The vans are outfitted with Gatik’s self-driving system, as well as a live safety driver, and will travel the route seven days a week.
Arkansas was chosen as the location for the pilot program due to the state’s newly passed legislation that allows self-driving vehicles on the roads. State law allows Walmart and other Arkansas companies to test drive up to three autonomous vehicles on roads and highways.
Walmart is interested in using the project to learn how to better use autonomous vehicle technology for its services. They’ve expressed interest in using self-driving solutions to improve the “middle-mile” segment of their distribution network. In a corporate blog post, Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of digital operations wrote, “We aim to learn more about the logistics of adding autonomous vehicles into our online grocery ecosystem, operation process changes and more opportunities to incorporate this emerging technology.”
Walmart and Gatik announced their partnership less than two months ago. During their announcement of the initial partnership, Gatik CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang stated, “We are focused on deploying autonomous commercial service at scale to address the costly, underserved middle-mile delivery for businesses, like Walmart, the largest retailer in the world.”
This isn’t Walmart’s only pilot project exploring self-driving vehicles. In January of this year, the retail giant announced they partnered with Udelv, a California-based technology company, to test autonomous delivery vans in Arizona. Walmart also worked with Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet. Members of Waymo’s early rider program were offered discounts when they shopped on Walmart.com. They were also able to take Waymo self-driving cars to their nearby Walmart stores to pick up the delivery.
Walmart is just the latest company to test self-driving vehicles. Volvo, Daimler, and Tesla have all been developing and testing self-driving trucks. The United States Postal Service (USPS) also recently announced they were testing autonomous trucks to deliver mail.
Some in the transportation industry have been worried that self-driving vehicles could replace truck driver jobs, however experts estimate that it will be at least a decade before the technology is far enough along to be mass implemented. For now, autonomous vehicles are still in the testing stage, and more newly formed partnerships can be expected.
Walmart is certainly excited by its partnership with Gatik, and what it could mean for its customers. “We’re always out to help our customers, and that means helping them save time and money. So, we’re using our position of strength to reinvent the shopping experience to take us, and busy families, well into the future.”