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BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Walmart has partnered with Silicon Valley startup Gatik to provide its online grocery business with fully driverless delivery, starting with a seven-mile loop in the retail behemoth’s hometown.

The alliance is intended to increase capacity while reducing inefficiencies, CNBC reported.

In a joint news release issued Tuesday, the companies confirmed that they have operated two autonomous box trucks since August on a 7-mile daily loop lasting 12 hours without a safety driver.

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Specifically, the Gatik trucks are loaded with online grocery orders from a Walmart fulfillment center, known as a “dark store,” and transported to a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered, CNBC reported.

According to KNWA, the experimental program “marks the first time that an autonomous trucking company has removed the safety driver from a commercial delivery route on the middle mile anywhere in the world.”

The “middle mile,” CNBC reported, refers to the transport of goods within the supply chain most, often from a warehouse to a fulfillment center or a warehouse to a retailer.

“Through our work with Gatik, we’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between our stores,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of last mile at Walmart U.S., stated in the news release.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone in our home state of Arkansas and look forward to continuing to use this technology to serve Walmart customers with speed,” Ward added.

According to CNBC, the partnership was forged in December 2020 after gaining Arkansas State Highway Commission approval, but the safety driver was not pulled from the equation until the summer of 2021.

“Taking the driver out is the holy grail of this technology.” Gatik CEO Gautam Narang, who founded the company in 2017, told the network.

“Having the trust from the world’s largest retailer has been a massive boost for what we do and is a validation for our technology, our solution, our progress,” he added.

Walmart and Gatik are running similar tests in the New Orleans area using an electric box truck with a safety driver to move online grocery orders from a Walmart Supercenter to a customer pickup location, CNBC reported.