Kroger’s leaning in—to robots. The grocery chain has struck a multi-year agreement with autonomous delivery company Gatik to deliver orders in the Dallas area. The self-driving trucks will operate out of a new $55 million fulfillment center, sending customer orders to various retail locations several times a day, speeding up the rate at which online orders are ready—and, since they originate from a warehouse and not a smaller store, reducing the chances of an item being out of stock.
The trucks will hit the street in the second quarter with safety drivers onboard, but by 2024, the 25 vehicles will go fully autonomous, the Dallas Morning News reports.
“We’re deeply familiar with operating our autonomous fleet within the Dallas ecosystem, and we’re very excited to bring that experience to support Kroger in its mission to reshape the future of goods delivery,” said Gautam Narang, Gatik co-founder and CEO, in a statement.
Gatik is a start-up, but one that has continued to grow as other autonomous vehicle companies have pumped the brakes in the past year. Other high-profile customers include Walmart and Georgia-Pacific. Currently, it’s running over 25 trucks on the roads of Dallas-Fort Worth and has not reported any accidents to date. Nationwide, it has 45 trucks on the road.
The Kroger trucks, which are refrigerated and can transport various fresh and frozen foods, will run seven days a week for 12 hours per day.
Gatik’s expansion comes as Ford and Volkswagen have pulled the plug on Argo AI, their own autonomous driving technology company. The decision came after Ford chose to focus more on driver-assistance tech that was more achievable in the short term.
“Profitable, fully autonomous vehicles at scale are a long way off and we won’t necessarily have to create that technology ourselves,” Ford Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley said at the time.
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