The vehicles have no human drivers to babysit.

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December 16, 2020 2 min read

This story originally appeared on Engadget

In 2019, Walmart began working with a company called Gatik to test autonomous vans on a two-mile stretch between a fulfillment center and a store in Bentonville, Arkansas. After these vehicles travel more than 70,000 miles with a human driver to make sure nothing went wrong, Walmart and Gatik say they are ready for a new challenge. There won’t be any human drivers in the trucks next year.

This milestone will make Gatik one of the first companies in the field to operate a fully autonomous route in this way. Since the startup itself is quick to point this out, it has its simplified approach to thank you for the service. By keeping its autonomous vehicles on certain routes, it can limit the kind of factors that can cripple them with indecision. “It’s what we call structured autonomy,” said Gautam Narang, CEO of Gatik. “It is safe and efficient because it enables us to limit the challenge of autonomy, which means that our delivery routes are greatly over-optimized and marginal cases are minimized.”

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In 2021, companies plan to test a more ambitious route as well. With the new pilot, Gatik’s autonomous trucks drive a 20-mile route between New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana. Here they move items between a Walmart Supercenter and a place where customers can pick up their online orders from the retailer. First, they will be human drivers overseeing this test.

Walmart was one of the more active players in the driverless delivery space. In addition to partnerships with Ford and Udelv, the retailer recently announced an upcoming trial of GM’s Cruise unit, in which autonomous electric vehicles will deliver products to people in Scottsdale, Arizona. Despite Gatik’s recent successes, widespread commercial use of autonomous delivery vehicles is still years away.