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Self-driving Logistics is Beginning to Heat Up

Yet another Silicon Valey based start-up is making strides in self-driving vehicles. Gatik is focused on middle-mile delivery and has recently signed Canada’s largest grocer as a customer alongside the behemoth Walmart. These steps have led to a recent funding round raising $25 million for the young company, founded in 2017. [1,2] 

The recipe that appears to have led to the rise of Gatik is a focus on middle-mile B2B logistics. Though this is not as exciting as self-driving personal vehicles or busses it is pragmatic and allows for scaling success one step at a time. As Gautam Narang put it: “We always say, ‘We’re not trying to boil the ocean,’ our focus has always been on what we can do near-term.” [1] With this focus, Gatik is making inroads in contexts where goods need to be delivered between businesses. This does not mean the start-up has small ambitions, far from it. However, their guess is that true last-mile delivery, that is to customers in a wide range of locations, is at least six years away. Fully capable self-driving fleets that can handle adverse weather and complex traffic situations are said by Narang to be up to 15 years away.

The more modest, but significant, next step for Gatik in its push to enter the self-driving industry is to manage vehicles without a safety driver. At present all the vehicles that Gatik operates have a person behind the wheel. It should be noted that they are not manufacturing vehicles but retrofitting vehicles such as Ford Transit vans with their tech. Narang says that this next step will happen soon, and by soon he means in a matter of months not years. This will be achieved by being selective about the routes that they operate on, which means they “can get rid of a lot of unknowns, a lot of uncertainties.”[2] 

 

Personal comment

That so many self-driving startups are in Silicon Valley is a sign of how computing-intensive the problem is. Self-driving is an example of how computing power and digitalization is impacting another industry. We can see many startup companies that are primarily software companies entering the space that has been dominated by traditional logistics companies. These small starts, such as Gatik’s middle-mile solutions along pre-planned routes may well begin to boil the ocean in not too long. 

Gatik is, obviously, not alone in this endeavor. For example, Einride, the Swedish autonomous truck company, is taking a different approach for a similar section of the logistics industry. Unlike Gatik they are manufacturing both vehicles and the software needed for autonomy.[3] Traditional trucking companies are also starting to move into this space. It remains to be seen how the process of digitalizing logistics will take shape, but there seems little doubt that big changes are coming.

 

Written by Joshua Bronson, RISE.

 

Sources

1. 2020-11-23 Gatik’s Self-Driving Delivery Vans Head North to Canada
2. 2020-11-23 Autonomous delivery startup Gatik raises $25 million in Series A funding
3. 2020-10-14 This start-up unveiled its new driverless Pod delivery trucks – take a look