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Walmart Expands Autonomous Vehicle Delivery Pilot Program

Walmart is expanding its self-driving vehicle effort, taking it a step closer to the futuristic goal of getting goods to front doors with little human interaction.

Walmart  (WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report will expand its self-driving vehicle effort with partner Gatik for deliveries between Walmart properties in Arkansas, taking it a step closer to the futuristic goal of getting goods from warehouses to stores to front doors with little human interaction.

Walmart on Tuesday said it will expand its pilot program with Gatik's autonomous box trucks, already underway for more than a year, to operate a two-mile route between a distribution center and a Walmart store in Bentonville, Ark., Walmart’s hometown.

Taking humans out of the equation is an expansion of Walmart's initial pilot program with Gatik launched last July, when Gatik's multi-temperature Autonomous Box Trucks operated the same two-mile route, but with a driver on board.

"This achievement marks a new milestone that signifies the first ever driverless operation carried out on the supply chain middle mile for both Gatik and Walmart," Tom Ward, Walmart senior vice president of customer product, said in a statement.

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Walmart also said it would test the technology on longer delivery routes by expanding the pilot program with Gatik to Louisiana, where it will focus on delivering customer orders to a designated pickup location. Those tests will come next year, with a safety driver at first.

Self-driving technology has been on the radar of the likes of Walmart and other big-box retailers and grocery chains for some time. Kroger  (KR) - Get Kroger Co. Report has been working with Silicon Valley Startup Nuro on a self-driving delivery option for more than two years, as has retail giant  (AMZN) - Get, Inc. Report.

Amazon and its self-driving autonomous division Zoox on Monday unveiled a four-person "robo-taxi," a compact, multidirectional vehicle designed to move people in dense, urban environments without a driver.

Amazon has been working with Zoox, which it acquired last year for more than $1 billion, to also accelerate its automation efforts in the so-dubbed “last mile” of package delivery, and in turn cut one of its persistently higher costs: the delivery person.

Other retailers and automakers have also been working on driverless vehicles. Waymo and General Motors' (GM) - Get Report Cruise as well as Aurora Innovation founded by former alums of Google (GOOGL) - Get Report, Uber (UBER) - Get Report and Tesla (TSLA) - Get Report, have all been making inroads in creating driverless package and people movers. 

Shares of Walmart were up 0.11% at $145.64 in trading on Tuesday.