Meet the autonomous-vehicle startup tapped by Walmart to help cut down delivery times for online customer orders

 


  • Walmart's partnership with Gatik dates to the summer of 2019, beginning with a pilot that saw the startup's driverless trucks shuttle goods between a dark store and a Neighborhood Market in Arkansas.
  • Business Insider spoke with Gatik cofounder and CEO Gautam Narang about his company and its ongoing partnership with Walmart.
  • Gatik seeks to serve Walmart's "middle mile" needs by tackling "fixed, repeatable routes," Narang said.
  • "The old architecture of the supply chain where you have this giant distribution center a few hours away from the city center does not work anymore," he said. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
  • Autonomous-vehicle startup Gatik will soon begin deploying driverless trucks for Walmart in Arkansas, shipping items from a dark store to a Neighborhood Market away in the Bentonville area.

    The two-mile fulfillment route will help the Neighborhood Market location fill orders for its curbside-pickup program. The news was announced on Wednesday and comes 18 months after Walmart first teamed up with the Palo Alto-based startup.

    With 95% of the US population living within 10 miles of a Walmart, the retail giant has looked to dominate delivery using its massive store footprint, as it competes with the likes of Amazon. Walmart hopes partnerships with companies like Gatik will ultimately play a key role in its ongoing strategy of improving delivery times to customers. 

    Business Insider interviewed Gatik cofounder and CEO Gautam Narang about the company's dealings with the retail giant, and what its experiments mean for the future of supply chain logistics.

    Narang said that when Gatik was first launched, he and his cofounders viewed the autonomous-vehicle industry as far too focused on passenger transportation. The opportunities available in autonomous-vehicle technology for the purposes of passenger transportation had also been "overhyped," in their estimation.

    Narang said his company sought to realize a more "broad application" for the technology in the "underserved" area of business-to-business delivery.

    "From a technology standpoint, it made a lot of sense," he said.

    Read more: These 4 startups are helping retailers tap into micro-warehouses and Amazon-like shipping speeds while raking in over $183 million from investors

    Gatik began to focus its energies on the "middle mile," the portion of logistics that falls between "long-haul trucking and smaller last-mile delivery," Narang said.

    "Our aim is to operate these vehicles back-and-forth on fixed, repeatable routes," Narang added. "We move goods from dedicated pickup locations to dedicated drop-off sites."

    After a successful pitch meeting, Gatik began working with Walmart in July 2019. Narang said that the Arkansas-based retail giant was pleased with the startup's "constraint approach" and "B2B focus." Meanwhile, Gatik had been looking for a partner with a long-term strategic vision.

    "The partnership came along very nicely and very quickly," he said. "So, everything from the first meeting to the signing of the contract happened really quickly."

    Next, Gatik deployed its autonomous box trucks in Arkansas that summer, after getting the green light from the Arkansas State Highway Commission and agreeing to share data with the agency as the trial went on. With a safety driver at the wheel, the trucks began driving 12 hours a day, seven days a week, shuttling goods from a dark store to a Walmart Neighborhood Market. Walmart Neighborhood Markets are typically much smaller than Super Centers, and house mostly grocery products.

    Walmart isn't the only retail giant to team up with Gatik, which was founded in 2017 by a group of Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute alumni. The startup also secured a partnership with Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws.

    Narang said that Gatik envisions that Walmart and other retailers will continue to move toward micro-fulfilment centers as supply chain hubs and double down on autonomous deliveries. After a "super successful" 18 months, Walmart and Gatik have announced that they will remove the "safety driver" from the Arkansas trial, and also launch a 20-mile delivery route in the greater New Orleans area next year.

    "All of this is driven by customers' expectation for their deliveries," Narang said. "We want our deliveries in the next one or two hours. The old architecture of the supply chain where you have this giant distribution center, a few hours away from city centers does not work anymore."

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