The largest dealer in the world launches its first self-driving vehicles.
The future is now with autonomous driving. Well, at least for Walmart it is. The Arkansas-based company has partnered with standalone developer Gatik to implement a pair of autonomous vehicles into its delivery system. The vehicles travel seven miles between a fulfillment center and neighborhood market in Bentonville, without the benefit of a security driver.
The so-called “average mile“Delivery follows a familiar path several times a day. Thanks to the technology employed by Gatik, a start-up in Silicon Valley and Toronto, Walmart can field its fleet of two vehicles.
Approval of autonomous driving
Last December, after 18 months of testing, Walmart e Gatik got approval from the Arkansas State Highway Commission for Level 4 permits. This means no safety driver is required, which is an individual sitting in the truck ready to intervene if needed. Instead, the fully electric vans are loaded at the fulfillment center, then routed to a Walmart store.
It’s the short path that allowed companies to get quick state approval to start using autonomous vehicles. Since Gatik started its business in 2019, the company has maintained a perfect safety record. Notably, the truck route between the two points is busy, with multiple traffic lights, busy intersections, and merger requirements.
Short and simple routes
Gatik’s business philosophy is simple: the company operates its vehicles seven days a week, 12 hours a day. With point-to-point service, simplify the regulatory approval process. As the company is focusing on more restrictive or shorter routes, it can tap into a niche.
While its approach to the market is different from its bigger competitors, Gatik isn’t doing much else differently. In fact, they use a series of lidars, radars and cameras to measure just beyond the vehicle’s perimeter. With abundant software at their disposal, they are able to safely navigate between points.
For Walmart, the system is particularly useful as it manages labor. The current shortage of truckers is of no relevance as no drivers are needed. Plus, instead of sending employees up and down crowded store aisles to retrieve items for customers ordering online, they are able to tap fulfillment centers to do the same thing.
Customers don’t visit fulfillment centers, but stop by stores to collect orders. Therefore, online orders are completed at the centers, then sent to the stores. This is exactly what the two AV trucks are doing: delivering processed orders. Walmart plans to build more fulfillment centers and have them “power” local stores. Self-driving electric trucks can play a significant role in this system, especially as other states give consent.
Information about Gatik
Walmart is a household name, but Gatik is not. It is relatively unknown outside the AV sector. Founded in 2017, the company works exclusively with medium trucks, including Ford Transit models from Walmart’s fleet.
In addition to Walmart, Gatik is working with several other companies on AV implementation. These include Loblaws supermarket in Canada and Ryder Trucks. The latter also acquired a stake in Gatik through its corporate venture capital fund, RyderVentures. Like Walmart, Loblaw is experimenting with Middle Mile delivery with its fleet of five Ford vans traveling between a collection center and Loblaw stores.
As for Ryder, Gatik will act as a client. Here, Gatik will lease a fleet of medium and multi-temperature vans from Ryder. These trucks are designed to transport goods to outlets (such as small-scale distribution centers or dark shops). Gatik will incorporate its AV technology into the leased fleet, enabling it to deliver its Autonomous Delivery as a Service (ADaaS) model to its current and future customers. In addition, Ryder will take care of the maintenance and maintenance of the trucks, including tuning the sensors of the autonomous vehicles and handling the required inspections before and after each trip.
Copyright of Walmart and Gatik photos.