Walmart wants to save billions while integrating autonomy into its supply chain

walmart forms partnership with gatik for autonomous deliveries van

Walmart, like most automakers and tech giants, believes autonomous technology can help it save a tremendous amount of money. But the company isn’t just interested in getting people from point A to point B; it wants to use self-driving trucks and vans to move goods around America and ultimately slash its shipping costs in half. Walmart could pass the savings onto consumers, while becoming one of Amazon’s worst nightmares.

American retailers have already started experimenting with autonomous technology; geo-fenced self-driving prototypes made by Nuro are delivering groceries from a Kroger store in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the same pods will begin delivering pizza from Domino’s stores to hungry customers in Houston by the end of 2019. Walmart is taking a broader approach: Instead of only using autonomous cars for last-mile deliveries, it also wants to deploy them to connect the stores and warehouses it operates around the nation. The company calls this the middle-mile part of the supply chain.

The technology required to achieve autonomous middle-mile deliveries is similar to the technology needed for last-mile deliveries. The car, truck, or pod must scan its surroundings and correctly identify obstacles, signs, and other road users to safely navigate with no human input. Getting it right presents different challenges. Middle-mile deliveries usually involve driving at highway speeds for hours on end in an ever-changing landscape; a robo-taxi likely won’t have to rely on its suite of sensors to drive across the Sierra Nevadas, for example. Driving on an interstate is usually simpler than driving in a crowded urban center because it’s more predictable, especially considering Walmart’s prototypes will almost always take the same route.

Spontaneously becoming an automaker is easier said than done — just ask Apple. Walmart is sourcing technology from California-based Gatik, which operated in stealth mode until June 2019. It introduced itself to the world by announcing a $4.5 million investment led by Innovation Endeavors, a venture capital firm created by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The tie-up remains at the embryonic stage, and additional details about Gatik’s partnership with Walmart — and other retailers — will emerge in the coming months.

In the short run, Walmart doesn’t expect replacing human drivers with robots that obey sensors will put truck drivers out of work. Automotive News reported the meteoric rise in online shopping bumped the number of unfilled long-haul driver positions in America to 60,000. Going driverless will help fill this void, while greatly reducing the retailer’s operating costs.

Consumers won’t be able to tell whether a professional truck driver or an autonomous truck delivered vanilla frosting to their nearest Walmart. The biggest difference is that they’ll hopefully pay less for it, and they might spend less on getting it shipped — or otherwise delivered — to their door.

Cars

Volvo invented the three-point seat belt, and it might be the company that kills it

Volvo didn't invent the seat belt, but the firm patented the three-point configuration found in every new car in 2019. Autonomous technology will force automakers to rethink how they keep motorists pinned to their seats, and Volvo is…
Cars

Chevrolet’s in-car pizza-ordering app is the start of an ecommerce revolution

Chevrolet has added Domino's in-car pizza delivery app to Marketplace, an ecommerce platform that equips millions of cars built since 2017. Users can order a pizza on-the-go by tapping the screen a few times, and have it delivered where…
Emerging Tech

Walmart using A.I.-powered cameras to spot dodgy shoppers at self-checkouts

Walmart is using computer vision technology at some of its stores in an effort to spot sneaky behavior at its self-checkout counters. The A.I.-powered cameras automatically identify any dodgy activity and then alert staff.
Cars

Nissan and Renault are the latest automakers to ally themselves with Waymo

Waymo is partnering with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance to research uses for self-driving cars in France and Japan. This is the first time Waymo has considered deploying self-driving cars outside the United States.
Cars

How the furious pace of innovation has sculpted the world’s fastest motorcycles

The technology that powers modern MotoGP race bikes isn't just inside of them -- it's everywhere. Literally every single part of the bike, from the brake pad coating to the shape of the gas tank, is painstakingly designed to make the rider…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Illuminated keyboards and a retro gaming console

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

The hottest of all Mini hatches is coming with a Batman-approved design

The Mini John Cooper Works GP concept first seen at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show will go into production in 2020, Mini has confirmed. The John Cooper Works GP is the ultimate performance version of the Mini Cooper.
Cars

What is Android Auto? Pull over and we'll tell you everything you need to know

What is Android Auto? Google's app overrides native infotainment systems to reduce distractions while driving. Here's everything you need to know about it, including the feature set and compatible car models.
Cars

Airbus-backed Voom could take on Uber’s on-demand flying taxi service

Airbus-backed Voom says it's planning to take its on-demand helicopter taxi to more U.S. cities this fall, a move that could put it in direct competition with Uber's app-based air taxi service launching soon in New York City.
Cars

Airstream inspiration Road Chief puts an off-grid luxury camper on the road

Updated for off-grid camping for four people, the Bowlus Road Chief Endless Highways awaits your tow hitch and your wallet. Bowlus design, build quality, and technology in a world-class trailer towable by most mid-sized SUVs.
Cars

Ford promises exciting GT supercar news at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Ford will make an announcement regarding its GT supercar at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed. The GT's racing career is winding down, but could Ford be planning a hotter road-going version?
Cars

This ’60s Ford Mustang EV has Tesla-like specs and a Rolls-Royce-like price

British startup Charge Cars planted its flag where electric cars and muscle cars meet when it unveiled a battery-powered 1960s Ford Mustang. Starting with a reproduction shell, the firm added an electric powertrain and modern electronics.
Product Review

2020 Mercedes GLS shows what happens when unstoppable force meets immovable luxury

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS is more than a luxury family-hauler. Yes, it’s got all the luxury features and all the bells and whistles of modern technology, but this three-row Teutonic tank has some serious off-road chops as well.
Cars

U.S. firm plans to power soccer stadiums using aging Nissan Leaf batteries

We've heard of aging EV batteries being repurposed to power homes and other facilities, but how about an entire sports stadium? An American firm is already doing just that, and now has plans to expand its system across Europe.