“We don’t care about solving hard problems in the autonomy space,” co-founder and CEO Gautam Narang says. “We don’t care about that. What we care about is introducing all the constraints that we can. Whatever helps us constrain the problem, we do that.”
Since Gatik formed in 2017, the company has defined its use case as the “middle mile”, somewhere between long-haul trucking and customer-facing delivery routes, connecting warehouses with retail stores and distribution centers. This means fixed, repeatable delivery routes roughly 15 km long. In addition, the vehicles use the right lane as often as possible and make as many right turns as possible to maximize safety and efficiency and mostly avoid more complicated maneuvers, such as unprotected left turns. Those sorts of restrictions would probably annoy human AV passengers but are of little consequence in a logistics-only operation. “This is the low-hanging fruit. We can target this in the near term and really scale this,” Narang says.
Via their current partnership with Walmart, and possibly other major retailers, it is reasonable to believe that the B2B “middle mile” use case is viable for early deployment in the US. Even if widespread AV adoption is increasingly seen as a long game, it would be interesting to see more mature niche use cases to keep the development going and contribute in figuring out key issues related to policy, acceptance, interaction, and so on.
Written by Victor Malmsten Lundgren, RISE.