Will autonomous vans help Walmart win the middle mile logistics race?
It’s pretty common to hear retailers talking about the need to own the last mile, with many taking a variety of approaches to effectively and efficiently handle the transfer of purchased goods to the customer. You can safely count Walmart among that group, but in an interesting twist, the retailer is taking part in a test of autonomous vans to transfer goods from one warehouse to another or to a store or other pickup point. The goal is to reduce costs in the so-called middle miles while moving packages to their ultimate destination.
The robo-vans being used by Walmart, according to Bloomberg’s reporting, follow fixed routes to reduce the risk of accidents and to keep operating in continual service. Human drivers are currently still behind the wheel on many of the test routes, so new processes for loading vehicles or navigation are not yet needed.
Walmart is working with Gatik, a two-year-old startup focused on short-haul logistics for business-to-business operations. Earlier this month, the company announced it had secured $4.5 million in funding and brought Walmart on as a customer.
At the time of the announcement, Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of digital operations, told VentureBeat, “We are a strong believer in autonomous vehicle technology, and we look forward to learning more about how Gatik’s innovation can benefit our customers in the coming months.”
“This middle mile is the most expensive part of the whole supply chain; it’s a huge pain point,” Gatik CEO Gautam Narang told Bloomberg.
This is not Walmart’s first venture into the use of autonomous vehicles. TechCrunch reports that the retailer signed a deal in January with Udelv to test deliveries to consumers’ homes using the tech firm’s Newton autonomous vans.
- Self-driving delivery van startup Gatik AI comes out of stealth with Walmart partnership – Bloomberg/The Detroit News
- Self-driving car startup Gatik emerges from stealth with $4.5 million in seed funding and Walmart partnership – VentureBeat
- Self-driving delivery van startup Gatik AI comes out of stealth with Walmart partnership – TechCrunch
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How significant a challenge is the “middle mile” in retail logistics? Do you think that autonomous vehicles will be widely used to address this need in the near future?