Walmart is making store deliveries for the first time with driverless trucks

Discussion
Source: Gatik promotional video
Nov 08, 2021

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.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does Walmart’s test using autonomous vehicles sans a safety driver mark a significant milestone for the technology at retail? What do you expect will be Walmart’s next steps based on the pilot’s results?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Expect similar innovations from Amazon, Google and Apple to boost e-commerce fulfillment speed. "
"I can certainly see a huge value in additional utilization of trucks for overnight transport between stores and depots when traffic is light and the roads quiet."
"Automation does not eliminate employment – it frees up human capital to upskill."

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21 Comments on "Walmart is making store deliveries for the first time with driverless trucks"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

In terms of advancement this is a significant step. However it does not mean the technology is ready for widespread use just yet. There are still masses of regulations on autonomous vehicles in various states, and no uniform national policy. Moreover, rolling this out in volume with lots of interactions with human customers is still something that needs to be tested. All that said, retailers will keep moving this forward as it provides a real solution to the costs of last-mile delivery and the labor shortage which is making it harder to find drivers.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Autonomous delivery vehicles have been a discussion topic for several years and now it has actually happened. This is a significant milestone for autonomous delivery vehicles and should pave the way for more companies to pilot this technology. Assuming all goes well with the pilot, look for Walmart to expand to more cities and eventually expand to home delivery.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

We’re at the very start of revolution in logistics. Kudos to Walmart for testing this in a real life scenario. The next steps I would imagine are moving products from distribution centers to stores. Those routes are also predictable and repeatable. I expect that home delivery will follow as the technology improves and safety concerns are assuaged. It’s not all that visionary to anticipate that in the not-so-far-off future the world’s logistics will be powered by automated vehicles on land, sea and air.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is another step forward toward autonomous delivery for Walmart, but there are still many practical issues that need to be resolved before this becomes reality. Namely, autonomous vehicle regulations. Until these autonomous vehicles are able to travel all the roadways, this will only be experimental. However these experiments and trials are critical precursors to making this a reality, so they are important. Autonomous vehicles are on the horizon and this is another example.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

There has been the testing of autonomous vehicles for years. At some point they have to be put into service. Walmart is a world-recognized brand, so there is a lot of publicity around it. I predict the results will be good and the rollout of more autonomous vehicles is imminent. It will be accelerated due to the Great Resignation, as companies are finding it hard to hire and keep employees. So, next steps — more autonomous vehicle deliveries.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

It is an important milestone but the idea of this catching on quickly or across the country is a fantasy. Many companies have abandoned the notion and there is a lot of worry about liability if something goes wrong.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I think you will begin to see more and more testing being done but I do not expect this to roll out on a grand scale anytime soon. Much like for drones, there needs to be uniform regulation policies in place and I don’t see a common ground there either. The time will come when this will be commonplace.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This should be a carefully drawn-out, iterative process until Walmart and its provider – Gatik – are very comfortable that the concept can be expanded. It will be a few years before we see this concept in wide use. The first adopters will be the companies with deep pockets and a lot of patience. We are seeing scientific history being made.

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

This loop appears to be akin to the loop that robots make in assembly factories. So it is taking a well-established process and bringing it outside and accounting for outside challenges. It’s incremental but proven and good for all parties. Automation does not eliminate employment – it frees up human capital to upskill.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes. Walmart’s driverless vehicles offer more proof that retail’s tech revolution is on ‘roids. Expect similar innovations from Amazon, Google and Apple to boost e-commerce fulfillment speed.

Phasing in more vehicles would accelerate Walmart delivery from its stores, dark stores and ghost kitchens to counter rapid-grocery rivals and food apps. Let’s assume the pilot is a success. It will take time to roll out on a bigger scale, as that involves regulatory approval — and public demand — for autonomous vehicles (as well as drones).

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

Autonomous vehicles will aid the retail industry’s labor shortage issue significantly. This is a key step along the purchase path where friction will be diminished. However it will be a while before this is implemented at a scale that’s impactful to the consumer.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Innovation cannot happen unless new ideas are tested in a controlled environment and I applaud Walmart for taking a crucial next step with this pilot program. Working with a tech partner like Gatik brings essential expertise to deploying autonomous vehicles on a greater scale and expedites problem-solving in the middle- to last-mile delivery process.

Jennifer Bartashus
BrainTrust

For now, autonomous vehicle delivery remains great for media impressions but will not yet create meaningful change in the industry. Autonomous vehicles can help achieve sustainability goals and address labor challenges. But such vehicles require more interaction from customers – who have to be ready when the vehicle arrives, go outside to meet it and unload their purchase. For some consumers this is counter-intuitive to the convenience of having items delivered. That said, autonomous vehicles will play a bigger role in the future, so everything happening today helps build capabilities.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

I cannot offer up a hosanna with the other hallelujah posters on this story for this “significant” milestone for autonomous delivery vehicles. I am am simple man. First, such an advancement takes away jobs from humans. Second, when there are accidents, who goes to court? Walmart? Good luck, everyday folks, when you are injured and go to court due to the inevitable accidents. Third, because technology exists does not mean that we deploy it or change behavior because of its existence. Let’s use technology to make our lives better and not to make everyone lazy or overly dependent on machines.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Autonomous vehicles are a significant step in mitigating the last mile and driving innovative efficiencies at scale to drive outstanding customer experience. This Walmart proof of concept is an impressive step towards a future of driverless trucks and all the supply chain accelerations that will go along with it.

However as we have witnessed with any supply chain innovations, especially the drone delivery model, the autonomous vehicles rollout plans will face significant local, city, and state regulations. There are unique requirements that vary from town to town and state to state to make any potential nationwide autonomous vehicle plan challenging to say the least. We should expect a crawl/walk/run rollout strategy around autonomous vehicles.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

This is a big deal. Not so much that someone is implementing AV, but because it is Walmart, which will give it huge credibility. Watch every other delivery organization accelerate their testing.

Autonomous vehicles are the obvious future of transportation. It is just a matter of time. This will be typical life cycle fashion. We are at the very, very beginning of the life cycle, still prior to the introduction phase. But once we get to the upward portion of the curve, it will explode — first commercially, followed by personal use.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust
1 month 45 seconds ago

We are more than 48,000 truck drivers short in this country right now, and the shortage is projected to grow to over 68,000 in less than five years. Walmart decreased the need by two drivers.

We are not doing away with jobs. We are filling a shortage gap. This use of this technology is going to grow faster than most people expect. But I do not see it as the solution to the last mile; I see it being used more from distribution center to store — with the same everyday people at both ends to load and unload the truck.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

If this can be made to work and proves safe, then it could have a massive impact on the retail supply chain, particularly at the moment with driver shortages. However all it will take is one accident and the whole project will be set back to square one. I hope they are also monitoring other accidents around the route the vehicle has taken as some other drivers seeing a driverless truck traveling down the road might be distracted and have accidents themselves!

Also, I can certainly see a huge value in additional utilization of trucks for overnight transport between stores and depots when traffic is light and the roads quiet.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Years from now we will look back at this event as the true start of the retail autonomous vehicle era. This is a great milestone, not just because an AV is running a routine route regularly but because it is Walmart — a very mainstream retail brand. That lends extensive credibility to the technology. However, this is still just the beginning. We’ve not even begun the adoption curve and certainly there are many new gov’t regulations to come to allow AVs to go mainstream in volume. That doesn’t take away from the significance of this event! Kudos to Walmart and Gatik for making this possible. They may be first but they will not be the last as there are many others in the works!

DanNeiweem
Guest

This holiday season, retailers will be put to the test to deliver items on time and at a reasonable price. Retailers who offer options such as BOPIS, curbside pick-up, expedited delivery and same-day delivery throughout the last-mile delivery journey to offer more convenient options for last-minute shoppers will be the real winners this holiday but also in solidifying trust with consumers. Avionos’ data uncovered that 45% of consumers said the ability for brands to deliver what they expect when they expect it is their top consideration when trusting a brand. And while the majority of consumers (77%) have come to trust certain brands due to their actions such as offering fair prices and delivering accurate orders, almost all shoppers (99%) will continue shopping with those brands after restrictions ease. This trust, established through brands accurately delivering items on time, will be easily broken or built up this holiday season.

Anil Patel
BrainTrust

The Autonomous Vehicles industry has seen unprecedented levels of technological advancement. However, no company has yet achieved large-scale commercialization.

While I believe Walmart’s AV initiative lends credence to the idea that AVs could be useful for point-to-point transportation like transporting goods from fulfillment centers to dark stores, it is still not a viable alternative to last-mile delivery.

However, this could be interesting if we can see this as an opportunity to enhance customer experience at the time of last-mile delivery. As AVs will not need drivers, how about having a human at the passenger seat with a similar skill set of store associates and carrying a tablet with a clienteling app. This person is not driving so he is not tired and when he is finally delivering the order, he can make sure that the customer is happy with the final delivery, upsell other products and if needed he can process returns.

In other words, this could be yet another excellent method of bringing stores to customers’ doorsteps.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Expect similar innovations from Amazon, Google and Apple to boost e-commerce fulfillment speed. "
"I can certainly see a huge value in additional utilization of trucks for overnight transport between stores and depots when traffic is light and the roads quiet."
"Automation does not eliminate employment – it frees up human capital to upskill."

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