Deep in the heart of Texas, you might be a little alarmed to find a big ol’ box truck roaming the road with nobody at the wheel. That’s not quite about to happen, but Gatik, an autonomous-vehicle startup, is planning to put some self-driving prototype trucks on the road in the Dallas-Fort Worth area this summer, delivering toilet paper and Dixie cups to Sam’s Club stores throughout the region — thankfully, with a human back-up driver in the cab.
Gatik, founded in 2017, focuses its autonomous research on what they call the “middle mile” of transporting goods — for example, hauling inventory from distribution centers and warehouses to retail stores. Middle-mile trips are typically short, requiring trucks smaller than the Class 8 tractor-trailers you see hauling goods across the country (mostly to those distribution centers).
As Gatik sees it, autonomous middle-mile trucks can help retailers fulfill orders more quickly, especially in the current market, where there’s a shortage of professional truck drivers squeezing our nation’s logistics.
Gatik has already been working on autonomous trucking deliveries with Sam’s Club parent company Walmart, delivering online orders from distribution centers to local stores in Bentonville, Arkansas. The autonomous trucks there graduated to operating without safety drivers in the summer of 2021, running a 7-mile loop with pre-determined stops 12 hours a day. A similar parnership with Walmart is being tested in New Orleans.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Gatik’s co-founder and CEO Gautam Narang explains that the Dallas-Forth Worth partnership with Sam’s Club will help to further test the company’s autonomous vehicles, in the hope that the technology can be implemented across the country.
As part of the multi-year deal, delivery trucks are expected to travel upwards of 300 miles a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to 34 Sam’s Clubs in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. Gatik expects those vehicles to take to the roads sometime next month.