In 2019, Walmart started working with a company called Gatik to test autonomous delivery trucks on a two-mile route between a fulfillment center and a store in Bentonville, Arkansas. After those vehicles logged more than 70,000 miles with a human driver there to make sure nothing went wrong, Walmart and Gatik say they’re ready for a new challenge. Next year, there won’t be any human drivers in the trucks.
That milestone will make Gatik one of the first companies in the space to operate a fully autonomous route in this way. As the startup itself is quick to point, it has its simplified approach to thank for the achievement. By keeping its autonomous vehicles on specific routes, it can limit the type of factors that can paralyze them with indecision. “It’s an approach we refer to as structured autonomy,” said Gautam Narang, the CEO of Gatik. “It’s safe and efficient because it enables us to constrain the challenge of autonomy, thereby heavily over-optimizing our delivery routes and minimizing edge-cases.”