Walmart is making daily deliveries from a dark store to a Neighborhood Market in Bentonville, AR using an autonomous vehicle that doesn’t carry a safety driver — a world first, according to the retailer and its technology partner, Gatik.

The driverless delivery project involves the operation of two box trucks that follow a seven-mile loop daily over the course of 12 hours. The trucks are loaded with goods at the dark store and then transport them to the Neighborhood Market.

The two companies first began working together in December of last year with a safety driver onboard. The driver was pulled in August and the test has been operating that way ever since.

“We’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between our stores,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile at Walmart U.S., said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be working with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone in our home state of Arkansas and look forward to continuing to use this technology to serve Walmart customers with speed.”

“This milestone signifies a revolutionary breakthrough for the autonomous trucking industry,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder, 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. We’re thrilled to enable Walmart’s customers to reap the benefits.”

The retailer and Gatik claim that the results from the current test have delivered “increased speed and responsiveness when fulfilling e-commerce orders, increased asset utilization and enhanced safety for all road users.” Safety, a major concern in any automated vehicle deployment, is not said to have been an issue in the Gatik test with the companies claiming zero accidents.

Walmart has been active in recent years when it comes to pursuing automated vehicle delivery systems in both middle and last mile environments.

Walmart and Ford in September said they were working together to launch an autonomous vehicle delivery service in Austin, TX, Miami and Washington, D.C. The program was the first on a multi-city basis for the retailer.

Ford is supplying Escape hybrid vehicles controlled with Argo AI self-driving technology in that pilot. Ford is a financial backer of Argo.



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