The Kroger Co. plans to launch a fleet of driverless trucks in the Dallas area.
The supermarket giant will deploy autonomous box trucks from autonomous vehicle supplier Gatik into the “middle mile” of one of its next-generation fulfillment networks. (The “middle mile” of the supply chain is where goods travel between warehouses or from a warehouse to a “last mile” pickup point.)
The medium-duty autonomous trucks will transport fresh products from a Kroger customer fulfillment center (CFC) in Dallas to multiple grocery stores in that market. The trucks each feature a cold chain-capable 20-foot box designed to transport ambient, refrigerated and frozen goods.
The collaboration will involve consistent, repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days per week across Kroger’s Dallas distribution network, to fulfill e-commerce orders with what the grocer hopes will be reduced costs. The operations will launch in the second quarter of 2023.
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. Canadian grocer Loblaw also uses some self-driving Gatik trucks to help fulfill its PC Express BOPIS orders.
Kroger’s fast delivery model explained
The CFC model is based on a partnership between Kroger and U.K.-based online grocer Ocado Group, Introduced in 2018, the partnership leverages a fast delivery “hub and spoke” model relying on a leading-edge automated warehouse concept known as a customer fulfillment center (CFC).
The CFC model combines vertical integration, machine learning, and robotics with affordable and fast delivery service for fresh food. CFC facilities leverage proprietary technology solutions focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robotics and automation to create more seamless and efficient fulfillment, picking and delivery capabilities for enhanced digital commerce.
CFCs serve as hubs for the flexible, vertically integrated Kroger Delivery network, which also includes smaller automated facilities and spoke locations. In CFCs, more than 1,000 robots traverse giant 3D grids, orchestrated by proprietary air-traffic control systems in the unlicensed spectrum. The grid, known as The Hive, contains totes with products and ready-to-deliver customer orders.
As customers' orders near their delivery times, the robots retrieve products from The Hive, which are presented at stations for items to be sorted for delivery via an algorithmic sorting process. For example, fragile items are placed on top, bags are evenly weighted, and each order is optimized to fit into the fewest number of bags, reducing plastic use.
Once completed, orders are loaded into a temperature-controlled Kroger delivery van, which can store up to 20 orders. Machine learning algorithms dynamically optimize delivery routes, considering factors like road conditions and optimal fuel efficiency. Drivers may travel up to 90 miles with orders from facilities to make deliveries.
“We are so excited to see Gatik trucks starting to deliver groceries throughout our Dallas division,” said Raúl Bujalil, VP supply chain strategy and technology enablers, Kroger. “These autonomous box trucks will help us continue our commitment to creating a seamless shopping experience - where customers can access their favorite fresh foods, with zero compromise on value or convenience.”
“Kroger’s commitment to redefining service levels for its customers through innovative technology meant that our collaboration came together very quickly,” said Gautam Narang, co-founder and CEO, Gatik. “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.”
Based in Cincinnati, Kroger operates 2,800 stores, including more than 100 stores in Southeast Texas and Louisiana, under a variety of banners across the U.S., including Kroger, Fred Meyer, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith's, King Soopers, Fry's, QFC, City Market, Owen's, Jay C, Pay Less, Baker's, Gerbes, Harris Teeter, Pick 'n Save, Metro Market, and Mariano's.