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Supply Chain News: Walmart Testing Driverless Trucks to Support Orders Assembled at Dark Stores and Shipped to Local Outlets for Pick Up


Ultimately, Autonomous Trucks May be Key Part of Walmart’s Hub and Strategy for On-Line Order Fulfillment

Nov. 10, 2021
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Some observers believe it will be many years before fully autonomous trucks are really moving freight in the US.

Supply Chain Digest Says...


Walmart is using dark stores as a key element of its emerging “hub and spoke” strategy for handling on-line grocery orders.

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But what appears to be a successful test thus far of fully autonomous operations by Walmart will certainly bolster those who see a much earlier arrival time for driverless truck technology.

On Monday, Walmart said that since August it has been operating two trucks without any drivers on a seven-mile loop every day for 12 hours.

The trucks move ecommerce grocery orders that are assembled by workers at a “dark store” – a former operating Walmart retail outfit what was closed for whatever reason and now serves as a fulfillment center.

But the grocery orders assembled at the dark store aren’t picked up there, nor are orders shipped from the site to end customers. Instead, the orders are shipped via autonomous truck to a Walmart Neighborhood Market in its headquarters city of Bentonville, Arkansas, for customer pick-up.

The new age driverless trucks are from a Silicon Valley start-up company called Gatik.

The program began in December 2020 after obtaining approval from the Arkansas State Highway Commission, initially requiring a safety driver in the truck. The safety driver requirement was lifted this summer.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone,” Walmart senior vice president Tom Ward said in a press release this week. “Through our work with Gatik, we’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between our stores.”

Walmart is using dark stores as a key element of its emerging “hub and spoke” strategy for handling on-line grocery orders. In that model, the dark store hubs build the orders and then ship them to a number active Walmart stores for pick up.

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That means order picking/assembly operations will be completed in dedicated facilities, and not mixed in with normal store activities.

Gatik CEO Gautam Narang commented that “The old architecture of delivery where you have a giant distribution center four or five hours away from the end consumer does not work anymore. Grocers are forced to set up these fulfilment centers close to the customer, and once you get close to the customer you have to shrink the size of your warehouse.”

He added that “As the size shrinks, there is a growing need for doing repeated trips from the fulfillment centers to the pickup points. That’s where we come in.”

Gatik claims its autonomous trucks can reduce logistics costs by as much as 30% for a grocery chain.

Walmart and Gatik are running another pilot program in the New Orleans-area using an autonomous electric truck but for now with a safety driver to move on-line grocery orders from a Walmart Supercenter to a customer pickup location.

How soon do you think we will really see autonomous trucks in use? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.







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