Perhaps the future of getting food and other goods delivered to your door isn’t actually in getting them to your door. A Walmart corporate blog post announcing the test of a new initiative with self-driving vehicle startup, Gatik, is the latest in this trend of moving goods between business locations. (hat tip to Grocery Dive)
Walmart’s post explained how it will pilot this self-driving vehicle program with Gatik:
In March, Arkansas passed legislation allowing for autonomous vehicles to operate in the state. With the help of Gatik, we’re making sure we stay on the cutting edge of grocery pickup by testing an autonomous vehicle to move customer orders on a two-mile route in Bentonville between two of our stores. We aim to learn more about the logistics of adding autonomous vehicles into our online grocery ecosystem, operation process changes and more opportunities to incorporate this emerging technology.
Gatik’s trucks will just be moving goods between stores along this “middle-mile” to get goods closer to your home, but not all the way there. Bloomberg reported on the promise of this middle-mile earlier this summer, writing:
As the buzz about human-carting robo-taxis starts to short-circuit, an unheralded segment of the driverless future is taking shape and showing promise: goods-moving robo-vans. Rather than serving up hot pizza pies or deploying headless robots to carry groceries to the doorstep, robo-vans travel on fixed routes from warehouse to warehouse or to a smaller pickup point, transporting packages to get them closer, but not all the way, to consumers.
Walmart is just the latest to explore the middle mile for getting people their stuff. When Uber unveiled its drone delivery program, one thing that stood out was the fact that drones wouldn’t fly burgers to people’s homes. Rather, drones would land at some kind of hub where Uber drivers would pick up the order and take it the last mile to people’s homes.
Zume Pizza operates in a similar fashion. Sifting through its vast amounts of data, Zume knows how many pizzas, and what types of pizza to make on a given night for any given geographic area it serves. Zume then pre-makes (not pre-cooks) those pizzas and sends them out in mobile kitchens parked in designated areas. As orders come in, pizzas are cooked and drivers come and pick up pizzas to take to people’s homes.
Amazon, being Amazon, is looking to bridge the middle-mile with the last mile. Spoon Founder Mike Wolf uncovered a patent this year for an autonomous Amazon robot that would live in people’s homes and automatically go and fetch packages delivered to a centralized pickup center.
The fact that big players like Walmart, Amazon and Uber are all looking at this type of two-step delivery logistics shows that we are at the beginning of the middle-mile, not the end.