Nov 8, 2021 - Business

Walmart route in NW Arkansas goes driverless

Gatik's technology enables this Walmart truck to drive itself.

Gatik's technology enables this Walmart truck to drive itself. Photo: Gatik

The country's first driverless trucks are operating on roads in Bentonville. They are shuttling merchandise for Walmart from a warehouse to a Neighborhood Market.

What's new: Walmart and its self-driving technology partner, Gatik, said today they had pulled the human safety driver from autonomous delivery trucks on a 7-mile route in the retailer's hometown — an industry first, writes Axios' Joann Muller.

Details: Four-year-old Gatik has been working with Walmart on middle-mile logistics in Bentonville since 2019, initially with both a safety driver and a second operator in the passenger seat.

  • With permission from the Arkansas State Highway Commission, the trucks are now operating with nobody behind the wheel.
  • For now, the passenger still rides along as an observer, with limited access to the controls, to stop the truck in an emergency. A chase vehicle follows behind to observe as well.
  • The trucks move customer orders from a Walmart "dark store" (or micro-fulfillment center) to a nearby Neighborhood Market.
  • The initial driving route was selected to minimize risk: It avoids schools and hospitals, and favors right turns over unprotected left turns — a common practice among UPS drivers, too.
Walmart’s Bentonville driverless route
Data: Gatik; Map: Will Chase/Axios

The big picture: Short urban routes are becoming more common as retailers like Walmart turn to hub-and-spoke distribution to fulfill growing online orders for same-day store pickup. Retailers need to be able to move goods from micro-fulfillment centers to nearby stores quickly.

  • Gatik has been incrementally developing self-driving technology. They started with the "middle mile" of the supply chain — short, fixed, repeatable delivery routes.

What they're saying: “This milestone signifies a revolutionary breakthrough for the autonomous trucking industry,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder of Gatik, based in Mountain View, California.

  • “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."

The bottom line: Autonomous trucks are here and forever changing how goods are delivered and how drivers interact in traffic.


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