Autonomous trucks with an empty driver’s seat may sound futuristic and far-off, but they’re already on the roads making deliveries in Arkansas and Ontario.
Next stop? Kroger, in Dallas.
Gatik, an autonomous logistics company, recently announced a multi-year collaboration with Kroger to transport customer orders within the food retailer’s Dallas distribution network. In just a few short weeks, Gatik’s medium-duty autonomous box trucks will begin transporting products from a Kroger Customer Fulfillment Center in Dallas to multiple retail locations.
And while the Kroger collaboration is new, this isn’t Gatik’s first time in Texas. The Silicon Valley startup entered a partnership with Georgia-Pacific last year to deliver goods to Sam’s Club stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“We’re deeply familiar with operating our autonomous fleet within the Dallas ecosystem, and we’re very excited to bring that experience to support Kroger in its mission to reshape the future of goods delivery,” said Gautam Narang, Gatik’s co-founder and CEO.
Finding success in simplicity
Launching a fleet of autonomous trucks is a tall order, but Gatik has found success focusing on fixed, repeatable routes that shuttle goods between fulfillment centers, warehouses and drop-off locations. By targeting shorthaul, middle mile logistics, “We need exponentially less data to safely and quickly reach fully driverless – the holy grail of autonomy,” said Richard Steiner, Gatik’s head of policy and communications, Transport Topics reported.
Gatik has already gone fully driverless transporting products for Walmart in Arkansas and Canadian supermarket Loblaws in Ontario.
Loblaws and Gatik piloted the autonomous technology together for two-and-a-half years before sending trucks out without a human in the driver’s seat. During the pilot period, a fleet of five driverless trucks completed 150,000 trips without accidents, guided by cameras, radar and lidar.
No humans necessary
For now, the driverless trucks making Loblaw’s deliveries still have a human in the passenger seat, but the plan is that they will soon operate entirely on their own. Narang told Canada’s Financial Post that the passenger isn’t necessary but serves as a courtesy to local emergency services in case the vehicle gets pulled over.
But even without a human physically present, Gatik’s trucks are equipped with speakers enabling staff to communicate remotely with police or other drivers in the event of an incident. In Arkansas, Gatik has a fleet of driverless trucks making commercial deliveries for Walmart without anyone in the cab at all.
For Kroger, the collaboration with Gatik is ultimately about improving the customer experience by increasing speed and responsiveness when fulfilling e-commerce orders. Gatik’s driverless trucks will transport fresh, refrigerated and frozen foods via consistent, repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days per week across Kroger’s Dallas distribution network.
“I see Kroger and Gatik being successful by staying closely connected – utilizing the data and the resources that we have to learn from each other,” said Mike Baker, Kroger’s head of final mile.