Sep 6, 2023 - News

Tyson Foods readies for driverless roads

Photo: Courtesy of Gatik

Tyson Foods last week started using a truck outfitted with tech and equipment from Gatik that will eventually allow it to operate without a driver.

What's happening: Up to four trucks will shuttle products from one Northwest Arkansas facility to another using U.S. 71 Business (Thompson Street in Springdale, 8th Street in Rogers) for much of the 12-mile route.

Why it matters: The move frees up high-demand drivers so they can do more desirable long hauls, reducing the company's dependence on third-party truckers. Smaller units — roughly half the size of current trucks — mean quicker turns at pickup and delivery locations, keeping freight moving in more manageable groups.

  • Still in pilot phase, it has the potential to save the company up to $900,000 a year, Patrick Simmons, Tyson's vice president of transportation, told Axios.

Flashback: Gatik was the first autonomous vehicle company in the U.S. to have driverless trucks, which operate in Bentonville for Walmart.

  • The company has been developing self-driving technology starting with the "middle mile" of the supply chain — short, fixed, repeatable delivery routes.

Details: Tyson's trucks are customized, 26-foot, refrigerated box trucks that can carry about 15,000 pounds.

  • By comparison, a typical 53-foot Tyson trailer seen on the interstate hauls about 32,000 pounds.
  • Once all trucks are in place, Tyson plans to operate shuttles 18 hours a day, seven days a week, Simmons said.
  • A safety driver will be in the truck cab on all trips at the beginning of the project. They won't be removed until the established routes have been proven safe.

The big picture: The U.S. faced a shortage of 78,000 drivers in 2022 — a shortfall that is expected to double by 2031, American Trucking Associations CEO Chris Spear told U.S. lawmakers in March.

  • Simmons said the company has all the drivers it needs at the moment, but planned expansion and the expected decline in interest make looking into driverless technology attractive now.

The bottom line: Gatik's track record is golden.

  • "We have never been in an incident or an accident while … the system was in autonomous mode across any of our sites — Arkansas, Texas or Ontario," Gatik CEO Gautam Narang told Axios.

Go deeper: Robotics and AI offer something to chew on at Tyson Foods

Disclosure: Reporter Worth Sparkman formerly worked at Tyson Foods.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios NW Arkansas.

More NW Arkansas stories