From the start, Gautam Narang has tempered his big ambitions for self-driving vehicles with technological realities.
While competitors discussed grand plans for robotaxis operating across major cities, or trucking companies conceived long-haul interstate routes, the Gatik CEO and co-founder stuck with a smaller scale. Structured routes. Specific environments. Fixed departures and destinations.
“When we started in 2017, we knew what was possible from a technology standpoint, and knew whatever promises were made were not possible in those time frames,” Narang said of the initial rosy expectations that permeated the industry. “And it’s always been three or four years out that general autonomy will be solvable. I’m not keen on waiting for that to happen.”
Starting with bite-sized chunks and a constrained approach to where it deploys its trucks has led to short-term results.
The latest came Tuesday, when Gatik announced it has opened a new operational hub in Fort Worth, Texas. Separately, the company said it had closed an $85 million Series B funding round, bringing its overall fundraising efforts to date to $114.5 million.
Narang said the Fort Worth hub is the first of several planned developments in Texas, which has become a hotbed for autonomous trucking given its business-friendly regulatory environment and warm weather conditions.
Waymo, Aurora, TuSimple and Kodiak Robotics, among others, have all set up similar operational depots in the Lone Star State.
Gatik said it is now operating seven trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Fortune 500 customers, albeit unnamed ones, with additional trucks expected within the next six months. The trucks are traveling what Gatik calls the “Middle Mile” – essentially arterial roads that are less complicated than interstates.
Using structured routes, the company can reduce the complexity of operations for its autonomous system and complete revenue-generating deliveries between distribution centers and retail locations.
“A key difference between how Gatik is approaching this and most other companies is that most of them are saying, ‘Let’s wait for the moment when we can commercialize this at scale,’ ” Narang tells Automotive News. “That’s not how we see our business. We see it route by route. … That has been proven right, and we’re able to do that because we’re obsessive about doing something real, not just solving hard problems in autonomy.”
Koch Disruptive Technologies led the funding round. Other participants included returning investors Innovation Endeavours, Trucks VC, Intact Ventures, Dynamo Ventures, Wittington Ventures and FM Capital.
Deployments in Texas build upon ongoing routes the company’s trucks are plying in Arkansas, Louisiana and Toronto. In the latter, Gatik hauls groceries for Canadian food retailer Loblaw and tests its system in winter-driving conditions.
In Arkansas, Gatik has partnered with Walmart, and conducts driverless operations on an ongoing basis. Narang said those driverless runs are taking place on regular routes that include public roads.
Gatik is combining its learnings from those three locations — Narang says approximately 60 to 70 percent of learnings can be transferred from one route to another — and building upon them in Fort Worth. There, the company is focusing on ensuring a high utilization rate on new routes. Gatik’s trucks are operating approximately 20 hours per day in some cases, carrying loads for separate customers during the day and night.