Coverage: Walmart to launch self-driving vans to lower shipping costs
Walmart will start testing an autonomous driving program that could halve its middle-mile shipping costs.
Bloomberg’s Keith Naughton and Matthew Boyle had the news:
Walmart Inc. came to dominate retailing through its mastery of logistics—the complicated choreography of getting goods from farm or factory to the consumer. But even the world’s biggest store doesn’t make money selling its wares online in the U.S., largely due to runaway shipping costs. So Walmart is turning to robots.
On a drizzly morning earlier this month, Walmart’s U.S. chief Greg Foran led reporters to a curbside package pickup kiosk outside its supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas. Idling there were three Ford delivery vans outfitted with self-driving technology developed by a Gatik, a Silicon Valley startup charged with a trial run aimed at cutting Walmart’s middle-mile shipping costs in half. Going driverless in pursuit of profit is a “no-brainer,” Foran said.
As the buzz about human-carting robo-taxis starts to short-circuit, an unheralded segment of the driverless future is taking shape and showing promise: goods-moving robo-vans. Rather than serving up hot pizza pies or deploying headless robots to carry groceries to the doorstep, robo-vans travel on fixed routes from warehouse to warehouse or to a smaller pickup point, transporting packages to get them closer, but not all the way, to consumers.
CNBC’s Elizabeth Myong reported this could just be the beginning:
Walmart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman told CNBC the retailer is working with its partner Gatik, a self-driving vehicle startup, to test out a self-driving vehicle. It will travel along a two-mile route in Bentonville, Arkansas between two stores.
“We are working with city and state officials to obtain the approval we need to operate and plan to start the pilot program this summer with the aim being to learn about the logistics of adding AVs into our ecosystem, operation and process changes, and more opportunities to incorporate this emerging technology,” Blakeman said.
Consumers have grown wary of robot-taxis due to accidents like the killing of a pedestrian last year by Uber’s new test car, Bloomberg reported.
The robo-trucks also take out the human element, eliminating the hassle of human passengers and the cost to create a passenger compartment in the first place.
Kyle Wiggers reported on the partnership between Walmart and Gatik earlier for Venture Beat:
Gatik, a two-year-old startup developing an autonomous vehicle stack for business-to-business short-haul logistics, today emerged from stealth with $4.5 million in seed funding led by Innovation Endeavors, with participation from Trucks Venture Capital, Dynamo Venture Capital, Fontinalis Partners, and AngelPad. Coinciding with the close of its funding round, the Toronto and Palo Alto, California-based company announced that it’s inked a deal with Walmart and additional commercial partners that’ll be revealed later in the year.
“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,” said senior vice president of digital operations at Walmart Tom Ward of the partnership.
Gatik’s platform taps level 4 autonomous light commercial trucks and vans — i.e., trucks and vans capable of operating with limited human input and oversight in specific conditions and locations (as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers) — to fulfill on-demand and scheduled deliveries up to a collective distance of 200 miles. Its fleet of retrofitted Ford Transit vans, which the company has been testing on public roads in California since the first quarter of 2018, together with its robust orchestration software ensures that goods are transported up to 50% less expensively in city environments between locations, Gatik claims.