Throughout 2021, autonomous vehicle projects have increased in number substantially as the technology advances to a point where real-world testing is needed to move to the next level.
Among these projects, delivery and ride-hailing are the most popular but most have included a safety driver to take over operations in case something goes wrong.
Autonomous box truck vendor Gatik is looking to change self-driving delivery testing in a pilot project that has started for Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The company claims it is the first time an autonomous trucking company has removed the safety driver from a commercial delivery route on the middle mile anywhere in the world.
The project, which was first announced last year, will see Gatik moving customer orders between a Walmart dark store and a neighborhood market in its fleet of multi-temperature self-driving box trucks. The driverless operations involve consistent, repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days per week on public roads.
The goal is to increase speed and responsiveness when using e-commerce as well as increase utilization and enhance safety of all road users.
“This milestone signifies a revolutionary breakthrough for the autonomous trucking industry,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder of Gatik. “Our deployment in Bentonville is not a one-time demonstration. These are frequent, revenue-generating, daily runs that our trucks are completing safely in a range of conditions on public roads, demonstrating the commercial and technical advantages of fully driverless operations on the middle mile.”
Arkansas State Highway Commission issued the first-ever approval to Gatik and Walmart to remove the safety driver from Gatik’s autonomous trucks and this project follows the completion of 18 months of involving state and local leadership and emergency services. The company will continue to hold ongoing workshops about its autonomous operations moving forward.
Walmart has been exploring new technology to change how it does delivery for the past few years. The company has been working with Flytrex to use its automated drones to deliver select grocery and household items from its stores. Previously, the company teamed up with Ford and Postmates to deliver goods and food to customers using Ford’s self-driving cars.
And in September, Walmart collaborated with Argo AI and Ford on a last mile service using autonomous vehicles for delivery via an online ordering platform.