Gatik, an autonomous technology company specializing in B2B short-haul logistics, announced its electrification strategy with the introduction of the industry’s first electric box trucks equipped with autonomous technology, the company said on Feb. 17, 2021.
The first of these new trucks are on Ford Transit 350 HD chassis with an electric powertrain from Via Motors Inc. The first three will deploy for Walmart in New Orleans in February. Gatik will continue autonomous routes with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles as well.
Gatik, founded in 2017, makes autonomous deliveries with 11- to 26-foot vehicles that can hold ambient, cold, and frozen goods. The company has been making autonomous deliveries for Walmart since 2019.
“With the new U.S. administration, emissions targets are front and center and EVs are starting to play a more prominent role,” said Richard Steiner, head of policy and communications at Gatik. “With the electrification of our fleet, we’re helping our customers meet their corporate sustainability and emissions reduction goals.”
The new trucks have a 120-mile maximum range and can be fully charged in less than 1.5 hours. Gatik has installed a DC Fast Charger at Walmart’s hub and at Gatik’s garage.
“We see middle-mile, short-haul logistics as the perfect use case for electric technology,” Steiner said. “Our vehicles are operating seven days a week, 12 hours a day."
While the trucks’ 120-mile range is ideally suited for electric, being able to fully charge in less than an hour and a half is critical. The trucks will be charging during loading and unloading to support continuous operations — a key benefit of autonomy over manual transportation.
Gatik isn’t yet profitable at a company level, though it is profitable at a vehicle level, Steiner said. Efficiencies are driven by “hyper” delivery route optimization and integration with customers’ supply chains. Electrifying the fleet drives further savings by reducing energy costs and maximizing uptime.
Another milestone driving the profit equation is the removal of the safety driver, bringing the trip closer to full Level 4 autonomous transportation.
In December, Gatik announced with Walmart that it would remove the safety driver from its short test route in Walmart’s headquarters town of Bentonville, Ark., with deployment scheduled for later this year. Gatik worked closely with Walmart and with the legislators in Arkansas for two years to help inform the legislation, and then deliver data to regulatory bodies on the autonomous trip.
Having traveled that same few-mile route since the summer of 2019 gave regulators the confidence to give the green light to remove the safety driver, Steiner said. Yet the significance should not be underestimated: “This is a major technological and regulatory milestone. It’s the first approval of this type in the state of Arkansas.”
Without the safety driver, the autonomous trucks will be remotely supervised. Rather than active “tele-operation,” a remote supervisor will monitor trucks’ activity at all times and be able to intervene with a high-level decision as needed. “We're able to offer efficiencies from day one,” Steiner said. “Once we remove the safety driver, we then move into very significant cost savings for customers.”
Steiner wouldn’t comment on the specific business model with Walmart regarding how the vehicles are owned and managed or if Walmart contracts with Gatik for “autonomy as a service.”
Gatik has been working with Loblaws, the largest grocery retailer in Canada, since January 2020. After a nine-month pilot, the companies are deploying five vehicles on five routes to transport goods from Loblaw’s micro-fulfillment center to five retail stores in the Greater Toronto Area.