Walmart is piloting a new phase in automation with robotic vehicles that automatically pass shipments across warehouses, according to Bloomberg. The retailer is aiming to cut its middle-mile shipping costs in half with robotic Ford delivery vans powered by Gatik self-driving technology.
The vans travel on fixed routes from warehouse to warehouse, or to pickup points where customers can get their order. The routes are often the same ones human drivers have been following for years, minimizing the need for new maps or infrastructure, and their unchanging nature reduces the chance of mishaps.
The market for automating the middle stretch of the delivery equation could reach $1 trillion, according to analysts. Greg Foran, President and CEO of Walmart U.S. noted that going driverless is a “no-brainer” for the retailer.
Walmart already is rolling out infrastructure that could connect stable routes with customers, such as its pickup-only store outside of Chicago. The automated delivery vehicles also could deliver packages to supercenters, where the goods would be available for curbside pickup.
However, Walmart isn’t only focused on middle-mile: the retailer also is testing autonomous last-mile grocery delivery in Arizona, as well as other self-driving car pilots with Ford and Waymo. Other retailers are testing this technology as well: Kroger launched its own Arizona delivery pilot in June 2018, and FedEx has partnered with retailers including Walmart, AutoZone, Lowe’s, Target and Walgreens for its own autonomous delivery test.