Last week, autonomous delivery startup Gatik announced that it is launching a new pilot program with Walmart. The firm will begin processing online grocery orders in Bentonville, Arkansas. The company inked the agreement after gaining approval from the Arkansas Highway Commissioner’s office to operate its self-driving vehicles in public.
Gatik’s Walmart Agreement
As opposed to Waymo and Uber, Gatik isn’t working to become a robo-taxi service or long-range logistics solution. Instead, the company wants to become a “middle mile” delivery provider for a host of different companies. As such, the firm is seeking to position itself as the bridge between long-haul shipments and direct-to-consumer delivery.
With the new pilot program, Gatik aims to supplant a crucial part of the hypermarket’s supply chain. In the effort, the company’s Ford Transit Connect vans will transport grocery orders from the Walmart Supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas to the local market in Bentonville for customer pick up. The two-year-old firm’s self-driving vehicles will conduct 10 runs a day, seven days a week, along two different routes.
In compliance with local laws, Gatik’s delivery vans will feature safety drivers. However, the startup wants to use the pilot program to refine the function of its autonomous vehicles. After logging enough data and real-world miles, the firm ultimately wants to run its 2-mile deliveries without a human operator.
Furthermore, Gatik’s leadership is interested in providing middle mile services for Amazon and FedEx.
Not Reinventing the Wheel
If the test goes well, Gatik hopes to become Walmart’s local grocery transportation service of choice. By doing so, the firm hopes to provide the corporation with a 50 percent savings in its middle mile logistics costs. But the Palo Alto, California-based startup has no plans to tackle more challenging parts of the process like home delivery.
Notably, Walmart isn’t just evaluating the services of one self-driving vehicle provider. The corporation has also launched Phoenix, Arizona-based pilot programs with Udelv and Waymo. However, the chain is evaluating Udelv’s ability to bring groceries directly to customers. Similarly, it’s partnering with Waymo to gauge its cars’ capacity to transport shoppers to its retail locations.
While Gatik’s Walmart pilot program is the least ambitious of the three, it also holds the highest chance of success. By removing obstacles like long-distance hauls and unpredictable routes, the firm has set its autonomous vans up for success. Indeed, by addressing a real need rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, the startup might be the first company to crack the self-driving vehicle conundrum.