Kroger/Gatik Partnership fournit un contre-point pour GM Cruise Debacle

Le mouvement sans conducteur des marchandises continue de prendre de l’ampleur, alors que Kroger et Gatik lancent une collaboration commerciale pluriannuelle pour transporter des marchandises au Texas.

While troubles of one people-carrying driverless company dominates the news cycles, the driverless movement of goods continues to gain momentum.

In a significant step forward for autonomous B2B logistics, Gatik AI Inc. and The Kroger Co. today announced the launch of a multi-year commercial collaboration. This partnership sees Gatik’s medium-duty autonomous box trucks transporting fresh products from Kroger’s state-of-the-art Customer Fulfillment Center in Dallas, Texas, to multiple retail locations. This strong signal, along with other recent updates from truck autonomy leaders, provides a significant counterpoint to the steady stream of troubling news emanating from robotaxi player Cruise. Let’s take a look at what is and isn’t happening on both fronts.

A Partnership Addressing Key Logistics Pain Points

Gatik is the autonomy leader in short-haul, B2B logistics using its fleet of medium duty trucks to offer Transportation-as-a-Service to shippers. In 2021, Gatik became the first company worldwide to accomplish driverless commercial deliveries. They have been racking up customers at an impressive pace since that time, including Walmart, Loblaw, Tyson Foods, and Pitney Bowes. The Kroger partnership is significant in both scale and the maturity of the tech, as I’ll discuss later.

Gatik’s Class 3 – 7 autonomous box trucks operate commercially in multiple markets including Texas, Arkansas, and Ontario, Canada. Founded in 2017, Gatik partners with industry leaders such as Isuzu, Ryder, Goodyear, and Cummins.

A giant in the U.S. grocery marketplace, Kroger operates more than 2800 stores serving over eleven million customers daily under a variety of banner names.

Today’s announcement in Dallas coincided with a ribbon-cutting ceremony including representatives from Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Department of Public Safety, as well as the City. “You are changing the world,” said Tennell Atkins, City of Dallas Mayor Pro Tem and Council Member, in his remarks addressed to Gatik and Kroger. “We are looking at the 21st century. Gatik and Kroger’s cutting-edge partnership is making an impact in Dallas and throughout the state of Texas. I thank you for your collaboration.”

Over the past eight months, Gatik has safely and consistently made delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days per week across Kroger’s Dallas distribution network. Kroger and Gatik note that these operations have increased the speed, responsiveness, and frequency of fulfilling Kroger e-commerce orders. “Kroger is committed to creating a seamless shopping experience for our customers – whether that’s through home delivery, a store pick-up or shopping in the store, and our collaboration with Gatik enables us to continue and enhance that experience,” said Ben Hamilton, Vice President, Logistics and Engineering Network Strategy at Kroger. “What has always been important to customers is that they get what they need on time. But what we have seen through this collaboration is that, as important as it is to be on time, it is also really important to have good customer service. With Gatik’s autonomous box trucks, we are able to be quicker with our deliveries, and focus more on the customer service side of things, which ultimately leads to happier customers and repeat customers.”

Texas is playing a central role. The state has emerged as a national leader in the deployment of autonomous technology, and the support from municipal and state government representatives has been instrumental in facilitating Gatik’s successful operations with Kroger.

“Texas is at the center of Gatik’s commercial growth strategy, so we’re very pleased to see the tangible benefits of our autonomous trucking solution realized through our partnership with Kroger,” said Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder, Gatik. “The support we’ve received from state and local officials throughout our journey in Texas has been phenomenal, and we’re excited to continue safely scaling our industry-leading Freight-Only operations in the state.”

Gatik is steadily densifying its transportation networks across multiple sites in Texas and Arkansas. Their continued growth in the Texas market is all about advancing the regional supply chain, providing safe and efficient autonomous middle-mile delivery services to several Fortune 500 companies with large operations there. The Kroger-Gatik operations involve a four-node network with routes up to 50 miles each way.

And Then There’s Cruise….

Is driverless tech in a tailspin? Hardly. But with the broader news media locked on to the juicy bone that is Cruise, the public can be forgiven for thinking this is the case.

GM Cruise is already in recovery mode following its recent implosion stemming from an October 2nd pedestrian incident involving one of their robotaxi vehicles. New company leadership is addressing safety culture problems head-on and cleaning house. Yesterday they fired nine executives, including the COO and key government affairs leaders who were apparently front and center in the less-than-forthcoming communications with California government officials in the wake of the incident. Now, Cruise is on the mend, doing what needs to be done. Since they have reduced operations to a minimum and plan to re-start in only one city, 24 percent of its workforce was let go today. This is a painful process that has the automotive and tech media in a frenzy.

Importantly, Cruise’s technical capability is not the issue; their vehicles are very capable driving in urban settings. If a mountain of technical inadequacies had to be remedied, months or years could be burned up. But this is not the case. The company culture is being re-booted with a much humbler and more respectful approach to road users and government agencies. Putting the new culture in place is not a long-term endeavor. This key point is what the mainstream media is missing. I see Cruise re-launching its robotaxi services in just a few months, thus re-starting revenue generation on the road to eventual profitability. This is why GM and other investors such as Honda are hanging in, at least for now.

Not In The Headlines: Methodical Safety Processes Plod On

Despite the Cruise debacle, Waymo’s services continue with no drama, apparently, given their lack of news headlines. Running robotaxis in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix, Arizona, Waymo has “taken a measured and incremental approach to introducing its technology to the public,” said Waymo’s Chief Product Officer Saswat Panigrahi, adding that Waymo plans to deploy fully autonomous robotaxis in Austin soon.

Other people-carrying players like May Mobility and Zoox appear to be close behind in terms of technical performance enabling the move to full driverless operations.

In the long-haul trucking space, publicly-traded Aurora leads the way in communicating both safety and operational readiness metrics to their shareholders. Their goal is to launch fully driverless commercial operations by the end of 2024. Startup Kodiak has stated the same goal.

Gatik’s approach to safe deployment of driverless vehicles is well aligned with the best practices of leaders in the space. “Gatik prioritizes safety through methodical and rigorous testing, leveraging the benefits of our B2B short-haul middle mile use case in which Gatik trucks are purpose-built and validated for the roads and routes in which we operate. While we are excited to expand deployment to deliver safety benefits to more customers and the motoring public, we’re also deeply committed to prioritizing safety above all else,” said Adam Campbell, Gatik’s Senior Manager for Safety Innovation and Impact.

On The Horizon: Freight-Only Operations

Having completed thousands of driver-out deliveries for multiple customers with a « safety passenger » on board, Gatik says they will achieve freight-only operations with their customers in the Texas market at the end of 2024. “Freight-Only” is the term Gatik has chosen to describe deploying their autonomous trucks without human operators on board.

To achieve this mature product stage, Gatik will at the same time be deploying its Generation-3 autonomous driving technology. The Gen-3 platform will be an automotive grade, scalable platform developed with OEM and Tier 1 partners. Gatik says that Kroger will be one of the first customers to benefit from the cost savings and supply chain reliability of autonomous delivery.

The Kroger-Gatik partnership provides a look into the future of driverless freight as it reaches maturity. As a freight-only company, Gatik will offer its transportation-as-a-service product to move goods for a major consumer-facing retailer. The customer – Kroger – has committed to pay Gatik to move its freight within various parameters that ensure the freight moves efficiently within Kroger’s network, smoothly interfacing with its personnel and facilities on either end of a trip. Gatik tells me they have committed to deliver not just freight but reliability, uptime, and other factors that Kroger’s human-driven truck fleet is struggling to fulfil. The arrangement guarantees increasingly attractive results for Kroger across the initial deployment phase to culminate in the final product for ongoing operations.

2024 is just around the corner. So is autonomy. As we continue to see steady expansion in robotaxi deployments, “freight-only” logistics are very much on the horizon if all goes according to plan.

Disclosure: I am an Advisor to and equity holder in Gatik.


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