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Grocery giant Loblaw uses driverless trucks to deliver some orders

Gatik and Loblaw
Gatik and Loblaw make history with the first fully driverless deployment in Canada. (Photo: Business Wire)

Canada’s largest grocer is now moving select omnichannel grocery orders with a fleet of autonomous box trucks.

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is partnering with autonomous “middle mile” logistics technology provider Gatik to transport orders for its PC Express buy-online-pickup-in-store ((BOPIS) service using multi-temperature autonomous box trucks, without a human safety driver.

Since January 2020, Loblaw and Gatik have transported more than 150,000 autonomous middle mile deliveries with a safety driver on board, featuring a 100% safety record. The middle mile is the point in the supply chain where goods travel between warehouses or from a warehouse to a “last mile” pickup point.

According to Loblaw, performing delivery with artificial intelligence (AI)-based autonomous vehicles enables it to operate more routes and make more frequent trips, establishing a supply chain that is safer and more sustainable and resilient. The retailer is shifting out of pilot to fully driverless deployment following a three-month period that included assessment of end-to-end technology, development and deployment processes, standards and regulatory compliance, risk assessment and evaluation of control measures; as well as physical component-, subsystem- and vehicle-level testing.

This assessment included sending degraded/incorrect sensor data, GPS jamming/spoofing, and incorrect acceleration with objects in front. Now, Loblaw will use the fleet to transport ambient, refrigerated, and frozen goods seven days a week from a corporate distribution facility to five nearby retail locations in the Greater Toronto area on fixed, repetitive, predictable routes.

Loblaw enhances BOPIS fulfillment with AI
In 2020, Loblaw began automating operations of its PC Express BOPIS offering by leveraging a 12,000-sq.-ft. hyperlocal fulfillment solution from Takeoff Technologies inside one of its GTA Real Canadian superstores. At the automated picking facility, once an order is received, it may be split by automated picking and/or in-store picking, depending on the products requested.

The automated facility brings groceries directly to a Loblaw associate to pick and pack. Once complete, the order goes to a staging area, where another Loblaw associate reviews the order and stores it in the appropriate temperature zone (frozen, chilled, or room temperature). The order is then combined with the in-store picked items if necessary.

[Read more: Loblaw streamlines BOPIS even more]

Walmart became the first company to use autonomous delivery trucks with no safety driver in the middle mile of its supply chain in a deployment it launched with Gatik vehicles in November 2021.

“Working with Gatik, we’ve demonstrated that autonomous driving technology enables supply chain efficiency, moving more orders more frequently for our customers,” said David Markwell, Chief Technology and Analytics Officer, Loblaw Companies Limited. “Being the first in Canada with this technology and deploying a fully driverless solution is exciting and illustrates our commitment to making grocery shopping better for customers.”

“This milestone marks the expansion of Gatik’s autonomous delivery service to Loblaw’s customers across multiple sites,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder, Gatik. “Canada is the latest market in which we’ve launched our fully driverless service, further validating that the tangible benefits of autonomous delivery are being realized first in B2B short-haul logistics. It’s a privilege to achieve this commercial and technical landmark with Canada’s largest retailer.”

Loblaw Companies Ltd. operates more than 2,400 corporate, franchised and employee-owned stores across Canada.

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