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Robotic Delivery Vans to Unite Walmart Stores in Arkansas

'Middle-mile' autonomous delivery vehicles could address picking inefficiencies
Walmart Gatik
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

Walmart has provided additional detail behind its “middle-mile” autonomous delivery initiative, confirming a test with the autonomous vehicle company Gatik to transport grocery orders between stores near its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters.

WGB first reported on the initiative last month.

“We aim to learn more about the logistics of adding autonomous vehicles into our online grocery ecosystem, operation process changes and more opportunities to incorporate this emerging technology,” said Tom Ward, Walmart’s SVP of digital operations, in a blog post.

The test will move customer orders along a 2-mile route between Walmart stores—according to a local report, a Neighborhood Market location and the company’s drive-up Grocery Pickup point. If effective, this could provide new efficiencies for Walmart, which currently picks orders on-site at most of its stores offering online grocery pickup; driverless vehicles could, for example, allow an order picked at one location to be collected by a customer at another. This could reduce demand on pickers and disruption from their work in stores and presumably allow for lower-volume stores to offer e-commerce services more effectively. 

Founded in 2017 and with offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and Toronto, Gatik creates autonomous vehicles focused on solving “middle-mile” logistics challenges. It uses automated trucks and vans to transport goods between business points, a strategy it says can reduce operations expenses by 50% while addressing road congestion and emissions.

The test with Walmart follows legislation passed earlier this year allowing for driverless vehicles to operate in Arkansas.

Walmart is exploring several technologies to improve efficiency in online grocery, including robotic pick centers, and autonomous delivery vehicles in several markets.

“We’re always out to help our customers, and that means helping them save time and money,” Ward said. “So we’re using our position of strength to reinvent the shopping experience to take us, and busy families, well into the future.”

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