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What just happened? Walmart is one step closer to commercializing autonomous delivery at scale. The big box retailer has revealed that it now has a pair of Gatik delivery box trucks operating (almost entirely) autonomously between a Walmart dark store and a Neighborhood Market in Bentonville, Arkansas, Walmart’s hometown. According to Forbes, the trucks have been traversing the 7.1-mile fixed route since August.
Walmart said the operations involve consistent, repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days a week on public roads. The deployment represents the first time that an autonomous trucking company has completely removed safety drivers from a commercial delivery route, although that’s somewhat of a technicality.
Gatik CEO and co-founder Gautum Narang told Forbes that there is still someone in the passenger seat with limited access to control the vehicle. Plus, there is a secondary “chase vehicle” that escorts the truck along its route. Clearly, this isn’t the fully autonomous portrait that was initially painted.
Still, it’s an important step along the path of eventually getting there. Tom Ward, SVP of last mile at Walmart US, said they’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between stores.
Once the technology advances to the point where passengers and follow vehicles are no longer necessary, companies utilizing such solutions should truly start to realize the sustainability and financial benefits of such investments.