BENTONVILLE, Arkansas: Walmart has announced that it has begun using fully driverless trucks from Silicon Valley start-up Gatik to deliver groceries.
Walmart and Gatik said they have operated two autonomous trucks loaded with online grocery orders from a Walmart fulfillment center, called a "dark store," and without a safety driver, on a 7-mile loop route for 12 hours daily since August.
The orders are then delivered to a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Bentonville, Arkansas, where the company is based.
After being approved by the Arkansas State Highway Commission, the program began in December 2020, and the need for a safety driver was removed over the summer.
"We are thrilled to be working with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone," said Walmart senior vice president Tom Ward.
"Taking the driver out is the holy grail of this technology. Having the trust of the world's largest retailer has been a massive boost for what we do and is a validation of our technology," Gatik CEO Gautam Narang told CNBC.
Walmart is testing the Gatik autonomous vehicles as part of its transition to a "hub and spoke" model for grocery delivery, where its hub stores are closer to the consumer and serve several retail stores.
Walmart and Gatik are running similar trials in the New Orleans-area using an electric box truck with a safety driver.
The Kroger supermarket chain has tested autonomous delivery with start-up Nuro since 2018, stating it has now completed thousands of "last mile" deliveries in the Houston, Texas, area. Kroger is also using automated warehouses for online grocery deliveries in Florida and other states where it does not have physical locations.
Gatik said its autonomous vehicles can also reduce the costs of logistics by as much as 30 percent for a grocery business.