Walmart Pilots a Driverless Delivery Program
Walmart, in conjunction with autonomous vehicle company Gatik, is launching a driverless delivery pilot to deliver orders between two of its stores on a two-mile route in Bentonville, Arkansas, according to a company blog post. In March, Arkansas passed legislation allowing for autonomous vehicles to operate in the state. The Gatik vehicles, which will be staffed during the test run, will transport items between a Walmart grocery pickup location and a Walmart Neighborhood Market, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The vehicles will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week and will make five to nine trips per day during the pilot, according to the Gazette.
In the blog post, Walmart was quick to point out that the program is a test. "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," said Tom Ward, senior vice president, digital operations, Walmart U.S., in the blog post. Ward added that Walmart's "customers are time-starved and need us now more than ever. That’s why we’re bringing the best of Walmart’s Grocery Pickup and Delivery to communities across the country. There’s no doubt customers love the convenience, so we’re testing new and innovative capabilities that will make us even better and shape the future of retail for everyone."
Total Retail's Take: This isn't the first announcement Walmart has made with Gatik. In May, TechCrunch announced that Gatik received $4.5 million in funding and added Walmart as a customer. Gatik-equipped vehicles perform short hauls of goods between businesses using autonomous light-commercial trucks and vans. Walmart has shown it has a keen interest in autonomous vehicle technology. Last year, for example, Walmart and self-driving vehicle company Waymo announced a partnership in Arizona. Under the test program, members of Waymo’s early rider program were offered grocery savings when they purchased from Walmart.com. The riders are able to take a Waymo car to their nearby Walmart for grocery pickup when the order is ready. Walmart also signed a deal in January with startup Udelv to test the use of autonomous vans to deliver online grocery orders to customers. Under the agreement, Udelv will provide its second-generation autonomous delivery van, called the Newton, to Walmart to deliver groceries in Surprise, Ariz. While consumers (including me!) are still hesitant about the thought of autonomous vehicles, it looks like they could be a growing part of order fulfillment and delivery in the very near future.