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Walmart says it will be making self-driving deliveries in 2021

The trucks could be used for “middle-mile” deliveries.

walmart self-driving delivery truck
Image: Walmart

This Tuesday, Walmart made it official – Gatik’s fully autonomous box trucks will start making unassisted deliveries for the giant retailer. It is well-known that Walmart has made significant investments in several self-driving companies such as Baidu, Udelv, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo, and Gatik, among a few others. As it turned out, Gatik is the first of several other self-driving companies ready to put into action one of its vehicles.

In the past year and a half, Walmart and Gatik have worked together to develop a driverless, middle-mile truck. During that time, Gatik’s truck covered more than 70,000 miles on its own while driving in autonomous mode with a safety driver present at all times. Almost all the 70,000 miles were completed while driving the same route, from a fulfillment facility to a nearby Neighborhood Market and back. It was a short, two miles long route in Bentonville, Arkansas.

According to Gatik, the primary reason why they can go full driverless is that they focused on the middle mile. The middle mile is a term used to describe a business to business route when transferring goods. The fact that it is one fixed and repeatable route lowers the risk of a self-driving vehicle making a mistake as there aren’t as many variables to consider. Thanks to this approach and relatively limited scope, it was much easier for Gatik to get approval from regulators for genuinely autonomous driving without a safety driver.

Gatik’s plans for 2021 doesn’t stop with their driverless truck in Arkansas. They plan to expand their efforts by testing their autonomous trucks in another location. This time, they plan to open a route between Metairie and New Orleans, Louisiana. This new route is 20 miles long and is between a Walmart Supercenter and a designated location where locals can pick up their orders.

In the beginning, this route will be served with autonomous trucks with safety drivers present. Later, after the trucks rack up some mileage, Gatik plans to take the safety drivers out of their autonomous trucks and let them run the route on their own. The idea is to replicate the same testing model as in Bentonville, Arkansas.

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