Gatik, an autonomous vehicle startup focused on middle mile delivery, announced a new self-driving box truck today. The new trucks feature temperature control, allowing them to transport cold and frozen food and goods.
Don’t expect to see these self-driving box trucks in your neighborhood. Gatik’s service is meant for the middle mile, meaning it shuttles deliveries between business locations, not to a consumer’s front door. For example, last year Walmart announced it was using Gatik to move food between its own store locations.
The middle mile is actually ripe for autonomous driving. Self-driving vehicles are good with set routes that are heavily traveled. Keeping within a limited scope of travel means the vehicles’ self-driving systems don’t have to contend with the complexities of traveling through busy neighborhoods, and the limited geography can be more appealing to local regulators wary of unleashing fully autonomous vehicles on public roads.
Gatik’s new self-driving trucks are also arriving during a global pandemic when the world is trying to reduce human-to-human contact. Autonomous vehicles can remove at least one human from the supply chain equation, which, when multiplied across multiple industries, companies, and supply routes can add up pretty quickly.
Autonomous vehicles can also operate without breaks, helping keep stores better stocked, which we’ve seen can be an issue when people are panic shopping. Gatik said it’s been shuttling Walmart deliveries 12 hours each day, 7 days each week since July of last year.
The COVID-19 outbreak could accelerate the acceptance of autonomous vehicles on the road. Nuro got the greenlight from the state of California to further test its self-driving pod-like vehicles on public roads. Refraction is using its autonomous REV-1 for restaurant and grocery delivery in Ann Arbor, MI. And Starship robots are making food deliveries in Tempe, AZ and in Fairfax, VA.
Gatik says that it has delivered more than 15,000 orders for multiple retail customers across North America and that its new box truck is the first autonomous delivery vehicle with temperature control capabilities. Gatik just might make the middle mile very cool for self-driving vehicles.