Robotruck Startup Gatik Making Delivery Runs For Walmart Without Humans At The Wheel

Gatik, a Silicon Valley-based developer of robotic technology to handle “middle-mile” deliveries from distribution centers to stores, has begun hauling goods for Walmart in autonomous trucks without a human backup at the wheel for the first time. 

Gatik, which has been making delivery runs for Walmart since 2019 in the retail giant’s Bentonville, Arkansas, hometown, is operating two fully autonomous trucks that are hauling goods on a fixed, 7.1-mile route between an e-commerce distribution facility there to a Walmart Neighborhood Market store. This new phase started in August and is the first time any autonomous trucking company has operated commercial delivery routes without a human backup, the companies said.

“This is the milestone that we have been working toward since the founding of the company four and a half years ago,” Gatik CEO and cofounder Gautam Narang tells Forbes. Still, there’s a backup safety feature. “There’s someone in the passenger seat with limited access to control. This person can press a stop button if needed, and then we also have a chase vehicle.”

The development comes as autonomous driving tech for deliveries and trucking seems to be on a faster pace to broad commercialization than for on-demand robotaxi services and personal vehicles. Gatik’s announcement coincides with an increased focus on supply chain challenges and as developers of robotic trucking systems including TuSimple, Aurora and Embark boost funding through public stock offerings and last-mile robotic delivery company Nuro raises billions of dollars in private funding rounds. 

Closely held Gatik generates revenue hauling consumer goods for Walmart in Arkansas and Louisiana, Canada’s Loblaw supermarkets in Toronto and is expanding delivery services for companies in Texas. Unlike TuSimple, which focuses on robotic semis for long-haul highway trucking or Nuro’s small, street-legal grocery and food delivery robots, Gatik focuses on hauling goods for businesses on repetitive, fixed “middle-mile: routes, with little variation. (Waymo, which is developing robotic big rigs as well as robotaxis, also conducts middle-mile deliveries to commercial customers in suburban Phoenix.)

The goal of driverless delivery in Bentonville is to be able to fill e-commerce orders faster and increase asset utilization, according to Walmart. “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,” said Tom Ward, a Walmart senior vice president.

Neither Walmart nor Gatik is providing financial details of their tech partnership. Gatik has raised $114.5 million in the past four years and is valued at $854 million, according to Pitchbook. It’s developing new autonomous trucks with Isuzu and currently operates 25 delivery vehicles in Arkansas, Louisiana, Toronto and Texas.

Gatik, a 2021 Forbes AI 50 list company, is smaller than giants in the AV space such as Waymo and Cruise, the increased focus on deploying autonomous vehicles for deliveries and logistics is making it easier to recruit top tech talent, says Narang.

“That’s the vision that is resonating well with some of the engineers in this space that have been doing this for a while. Talent wants to see their work being commercialized and actually shipping product has become the exciting piece in the space,” he said. “The near-term focus that we have is they’re resonating well with some of the talent we have attracted from other AV companies.”

The Tycoon Herald