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Walmart Tests Autonomous Delivery Vans For "Middle-Mile" Solution

FreightWaves

Walmart Inc.'s (NYSE: WMT) delivery pilot with autonomous vehicle company Gatik highlights the retail giant's continued investment in self-driving solutions as well as growing interest in the so called "middle-mile" segment of the distribution network. 

The pilot, announced on July 25, will use robovans from Palo Alto-based Gatik to move groceries from a Walmart distribution center in Rogers, Arkansas, to one of its retail stores in nearby Bentonville.

Three Ford vans outfitted with Gatik's self-driving system – and a safety driver – vehicles will travel the route seven days a week.

Walmart will use the project to learn more about how autonomous-vehicle technology can be best utilized to benefit  stores and services, Tom Ward, Walmart senior vice president, digital operations, wrote in a blog post.

It also will help position the state as a contender to attract investment from next-generation urban mobility and supply chain companies.

"In March, Arkansas passed legislation allowing for autonomous vehicles to operate in the state," Ford wrote. "With the help of Gatik, we're making sure we stay on the cutting edge of grocery pickup by testing an autonomous vehicle to move customer orders on a two-mile route in Bentonville between two of our stores."

News of the pilot came less than two months after Walmart and Gatik announced their partnership.  

Around the same time, Walmart announced that it was a lead partner in a new Plug and Play supply chain and logistics accelerator program opening in Bentonville, where Walmart is headquartered. 

J.B. Hunt and Tyson are also partners on the accelerator, which will focus on supply chain optimization, blockchain, last-mile delivery, warehouse automation, IoT sensors, predictive analytics and machine learning.

As heightened delivery pressures rewrite the rules of the freight distribution network, a gap has opened up between self-driving long-haul trucks, which operate on highways, and sidewalk robots and other last-mile vehicles that are limited in speed and operations.

Gatik fills this middle-mile part of logistics. "We are focused on deploying autonomous commercial service at scale to address the costly, underserved middle-mile delivery for businesses, like Walmart, the largest retailer in the world," Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder of Gatik, said in a statement announcing the initial partnership.

Gatik joins autonomous-vehicle startups Waymo and Burlingame, California based technology company Udelv in partnering with Walmart on delivery pilots. The latter test collaborations have taken place in Arizona.

Although Northwest Arkansas is recognized as a regional economic center, the area lacks an abundance of startups and investors. Economic development boosters are eager to change that.  

The Arkansas state law allows Walmart, J.B. Hunt Transport Services (NASDAQ: JBHT) and other Arkansas companies to test drive up to three autonomous or driverless vehicles on state roads and highways. The state senator who introduced the bill said he did so on behalf of Walmart, TalkBusiness reported.

Gatik has hit the ground running.The startup came out of stealth mode in June to announce a $4.5 million seed round led by Innovation Endeavors. 

Co-founder Gautam Narang previously told FreightWaves that businesses benefitting from the startup's services include third-party logistics companies, consumer goods distributors, food and beverage distributors and medical and pharmaceutical distributors. 

Additional partnership announcements are forthcoming, Narang said.

Image Sourced From Pixabay

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