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An autonomous vehicle start-up based in Silicon Valley is developing Level 4 automated light trucks and vans for business-to-business (B2B) short-haul logistics. Founded just three years ago, Gatik AI has received funding from a number of investors.  It has big aims too. By 2025, its goal is to achieve for logistics what Airbnb has done for hospitality, and Uber has done for personal transportation. To learn more, we caught up with Gautam Narang, Co-founder and CEO of Gatik.

Could you tell us about Gatik and your target market?

Gatik was founded in 2017 by veterans of the autonomous technology space. With over three decades' robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning experience combined between us, we came together to reimagine the world of logistics.

Our mission is to deliver goods safely and efficiently using autonomous vehicles. We focus on short-haul, B2B logistics for the retail industry. Light-duty trucks and vans equipped with our proprietary autonomous driving technology move goods on fixed repeatable routes between stores, distribution centres and collection points, known as the "middle mile". This middle mile is the most expensive and challenging part of the supply chain for retailers to contend with.

We are not attempting to change consumer behaviour, which is notoriously hard to do, but enable our customers to solve critical pain points in their operations by optimising the supply chain. Our autonomous vehicle solutions enable customers to dramatically increase the efficiency of their hub and spoke operations, meet consumer demand for real-time goods, significantly increase road safety and reduce congestion, fuel consumption and emissions.

We often hear about autonomous delivery bots designed for sidewalks, robo-taxis and self-driving trucks. Why are you focusing on this specific part of the market?

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The vast majority of our competitors are focusing on passenger transportation, and those that are working in the autonomous delivery space are trying to solve autonomy over a general/generic geo-fenced area. These models pose very different challenges, require specific technologies and as we have seen, will take a long time to achieve.

Gatik also fills a clear gap in the market: on one end of the delivery spectrum there are self-driving trucks that operate with a large payload at highway speeds, and on the other end there are sidewalk robots that operate at restricted speeds, have limited weight capacity, and cover short distances. The middle mile is dramatically underserved, and we address this market need.

The biggest threat to the autonomous revolution is the unknown, or "edge cases".

The key to our success involves optimising pre-determined, fixed routes, such as those used along the supply chain's middle mile, countless times each day. The biggest threat to the autonomous revolution is the unknown, or "edge cases". These are substantially reduced on fixed journeys, enabling vehicles fitted with Gatik's technology to safely and seamlessly navigate delivery routes. We believe the reliability and scalability of this approach will contribute significantly to the emergence of, and trust in, autonomous vehicle use in everyday life.

What are the use cases?

Gatik's autonomous vehicles are capable of filling a gap in the delivery cycle across all urban business to business short-haul logistics. This includes enabling online grocery curbside pick-up service for retailers, consumer goods distributors, food and beverage distributors, autopart distributors, medical and pharmaceutical distributors and 3PL companies (such as FedEx, UPS).

Gatik solves a critical bottleneck in their supply chain models, ensuring goods are transported efficiently and affordably from sorting centres to delivery points and from collection points back to sorting centres to meet consumer demand.

Who are you partnering with?

Gatik's autonomous vehicles are currently operating in the USA with Walmart. Our partnership is a first in the autonomous vehicle industry: this kind of middle-mile integration with a major retailer has never been done before. It marked the first-ever deployment of a hub-and-spoke autonomous vehicle delivery model, and is proof of commercialisation and scalability for our use case and market.

Our autonomous vehicles are currently responsible for delivering customer online grocery orders from Walmart's main warehouse in Bentonville, Arkansas to its regional Neighborhood Store.

We have additional partnerships and operations with major North American retailers soon to be announced. In our partners, we look for alignment in long-term operating strategy, diversity of use-cases, high growth potential, and a matched progressive approach to disrupting urban logistics.

In terms of cost-savings to your partners from using middle-mile AVs once you have reached scale, what can they expect?

With the rise of e-commerce, a short supply of drivers and increasing driver salaries, businesses are struggling to meet the consumer expectations of an increasingly on-demand economy. Gatik's autonomous delivery service is enabling new capabilities for its customers and at scale, help them save significantly in operating costs. 

We understand you have funding from a number of investors. How will you invest those funds in the business?

We have received funding from Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavours, Bill Ford's Fontinalis Partners, Trucks VC, Dynamo Ventures and AngelPad, which we are using to create a better future for the logistics community through autonomous vehicle solutions. Gatik provides both a service and a philosophy: we add value to our customers' logistics operations by reducing costs and solving critical industry pain points, while helping them achieve a shared ethical responsibility to improve road and environmental safety.

Where does Gatik go from here?

We envision a world in which the challenges facing the logistics industry today no longer exist. In 5 years, our goal is to achieve for logistics what AirBnB has done for hospitality, and Uber has done for personal transportation. We want to be the go-to company for safe, reliable and affordable movement of goods. Over the next 20 years, autonomous deliveries will become mainstream, and we see ourselves playing a defining role in how this industry is shaped.