Because of all that Arkansas has to offer, we are actively seeking U.S. and international companies to invest in our state. On my recent trip to Israel, I was able to meet with President Isaac Herzog and talk about my initiative for computer science and technology company growth in our state. I also met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The prime minister talked about Israel’s defense system known as the Iron Dome and how the work done in Camden helps protect Israelis from rocket attacks and save the lives of millions.
I also spoke at the prime minister’s Smart Mobility Summit, which hosted business leaders, innovators and policymakers from around the world for a global dialogue about the future of transportation. While there I was able to talk about the economic success we are having in our state. A company that truly embodies the Arkansan spirit is Walmart, founded right here in the Natural State, and thanks to Sam Walton’s vision and boldness, he turned one store into the United States’ biggest retailer.
And at the mobility summit, I was proud to announce a new partnership between Walmart and a company called Gatik. With their new partnership, they will be rolling out the world’s first autonomous driverless delivery service. Gatik is now operating daily in Bentonville, without a safety driver aboard the vehicle. This is the first time that fully autonomous operations have ever been achieved on the “Middle Mile,” a term to describe moving goods from warehouses or micro fulfillment centers to a pickup location such as a retail store.
After two years of testing, Walmart and Gatik are taking to the streets of northwest Arkansas to demonstrate the next big logistics solution. This was all made possible by our state legislators who had the foresight to pave the way for this innovation. In 2019, I signed legislation to allow testing of autonomous vehicles in a controlled regulated fashion. Since the pilot program was started, Gatik’s autonomous box trucks have been moving merchandise in Bentonville.
The complex urban route required the vehicles to safely navigate intersections, traffic lights and to merge onto a dense urban road at speeds up to 45 mph. In December 2020, Gatik submitted documentation of 18 months of successful operation. They then received the first-ever approval for fully autonomous operations in the state. In other words, Gatik could operate its vehicles without a safety driver aboard, which had been required until that point.
The hope of these tests is to truly unlock the advantages of autonomous delivery for Walmart’s customers enabling speed and choice on how customers access goods and a business’ responsiveness to fulfilling online orders. With companies like Walmart and Gatik pushing the envelope on business and expansion, Arkansas will continue to grow into a world-class hub for new technologies.
Asa Hutchinson is the 46th governor of Arkansas. To contact him, visit governor.arkansas.gov/.