Gatik uses refrigerated box trucks on Ford Transit chassis to deliver goods in the supply...

Gatik uses refrigerated box trucks on Ford Transit chassis to deliver goods in the supply chain’s middle mile.

Photo courtesy of Gatik.

Driverless vehicle testing is taking the next step on the path to true Level 4 autonomy. Gatik, a provider of middle-mile autonomous deliveries, announced this week in conjunction with Walmart that it is removing the safety driver from its test route in Walmart’s headquarters town of Bentonville, Arkansas.

For 18 months, Gatik has been moving Walmart orders with a safety driver from a fulfillment center to a neighborhood store using a refrigerated box truck fitted with Gatik’s autonomous system. “This achievement marks an historic technological and regulatory milestone for the industry, signifying the first ever driverless operation carried out for the supply chain’s middle mile,” wrote Gautam Narang, Gatik’s CEO and cofounder, in Medium post

The companies also announced a new test on a longer, 20-mile route between New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana, delivering items from a Walmart Supercenter to a customer pickup point. This route, commencing in 2021, will initially operate with a safety driver.

Gatik was able to reach this milestone because its autonomous vehicles operate on fixed, repeatable routes that minimize edge cases, wrote Narang. The company also worked closely with legislative and regulatory personnel in Arkansas to collaborate on AV legislation.

In November, Gatik announced completion of Series A funding along with a partnership with Canadian food retailer Loblaw Companies to transport goods from a picking facility to retail locations across Greater Toronto. 

Other autonomous-vehicle technology companies have also announced the removal of safety drivers from test routes. California has granted permits to five AV companies to test without a safety driver: Cruise, AutoX, Zoox, Waymo, and Nuro. Cruise said it would begin fully driverless testing “by the end of the year.” (Waymo and Nuro also are developing autonomous technology for heavy-duty trucks.)

Earlier in December, AutoX rolled out fully driverless robotaxis in Shenzen, China. Unlike other AV companies that still employ remote operators, AutoX claims its test — not yet open to the public — is the first to deploy in China without safety drivers or remote operators.