Self-driving trucks will soon make deliveries to Walmart Inc.’s Sam’s Club stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, marking a significant expansion of autonomous vehicles operating in live traffic.
Gatik, a pioneer of driverless technology, will partner with Georgia-Pacific to drop off goods such as plates, Dixie cups and toilet paper to 34 of the warehouse stores starting in July, the companies said in a statement Tuesday. The midsize trucks with 26-foot trailers are categorized as Class 6 vehicles, which are smaller than the Class 8 big rigs that currently handle the job.
The deal expands Gatik’s driverless-truck operations on the busy roads of the nation’s fourth-largest metropolitan area, while building on autonomous service to Walmart facilities that it already handles in Arkansas and Louisiana. The trucks will operate on fixed routes around the clock, seven days a week, and Gatik has its eye on expanding beyond North Texas.
“We’re starting out in the Dallas market but the focus will be on rolling it out nationwide,” Gatik Chief Executive Officer Gautam Narang said in an interview. The goal is to disrupt short-haul networks that were traditionally served by trucks with 53-foot trailers, he said.
Georgia-Pacific, which is owned by closely held Koch Industries, said the Gatik partnership would eventually reduce cost and complexity in its supply chain. The trucks will be integrated into the transportation operations of KBX Logistics, another Koch company.
The autonomous trucks will lead to savings at a time when “truckers are hard to come by,” said Paul Snider, president of KBX Logistics. That will enable the company to reduce inventory on hand at Sam’s Club stores.
“It allows us to replenish more frequently and accurately,” he said.
Koch Disruptive Technologies, also an arm of the family-owned empire, led an $85 million Series B funding round for Gatik last year to expand the company’s autonomous middle-mile transportation network.
Gatik has been operating self-driving trucks for Walmart in the company’s headquarters city of Bentonville, Arkansas, since 2019. It went fully autonomous last year after initially employing a safety driver, Narang said. The company also serves Walmart in Louisiana, and has operations with Loblaw Cos., Canada’s largest grocer, in Ontario.
While the Gatik vehicles serving Georgia-Pacific won’t replace Sam’s Club drivers, Walmart is sure to be watching closely as it pays more for truckers. The company said in April that it would raise starting pay to as much as $110,000 a year.
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