Gatik and Walmart announced on Thursday that they had partnered to develop and propose legislation that permits autonomous vehicles to operate in the state of Kansas for the first time.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed Senate Bill 313 into law last Friday. It had passed the Kansas House on a 75-44 vote and the Senate 23-17. Kansas is the 25th state to pass legislation that enables fully autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads.
Gatik said that prior to commencement of the expanded operations it will submit a law enforcement interaction plan (LEIP) as required.
Welcome to Kansas
“We are excited to bring our autonomous fleet to the state of Kansas and ensure that the advantages of autonomous delivery on the middle mile can be realized by Kansans in the near term,” said Richard Steiner, head of policy for Gatik. “We applaud Gov. Kelly for taking a proactive approach to enabling the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles and look forward to laying down roots in the state of Kansas, creating a wealth of new jobs and delivering essential goods to Kansans with speed and efficiency.”
Gatik is already operational in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Ontario, Canada. It began commercial operations in 2019, transporting goods with autonomous vehicles with a safety driver in the driver’s seat. However, in November 2021, it announced that the safety driver had shifted to the passenger seat as its box trucks were now operating fully autonomously in Arkansas.
Those vehicles are hauling loads from a Walmart dark store in Bentonville to a local Walmart Neighborhood Market, about 3.5 miles away.
During his keynote address at FreightWaves’ Future of Supply Chain event in Rogers, Arkansas, earlier this month, Gatik CEO Gautam Narang said the company’s singular focus on the middle mile is helping it advance its mission of autonomy quickly.
Focus on the middle mile
“In 2016, most of the industry players were focusing on passenger transportation. Everyone was promising by 2020, 2021 we would have tens of thousands of robotaxis on the roads. Everyone was promising the problem would be solved. Everyone was saying 2021 is the year. Today, standing here in 2022, somehow the promises are being made for 2024 and 2025. We are always three to four years out,” he said.
“Since August of last year, we have been working with our partner Walmart here in Arkansas without anyone behind the steering wheel,” Narang added. “For us, we have delivered on the promise of autonomy. And this year and next, we plan to scale that across multiple sites, multiple customers.”
Watch: Gatik CEO Gautam Narang
The new initiative in Kansas will follow a similar approach to what Gatik took in Arkansas. Besides creating the LEIP, Gatik said it will work with state and local authorities to provide education and training sessions to law enforcement and first responders as part of its stakeholder engagement strategy.
Operating in Kansas
The Kansas law requires operators of autonomous vehicles to ensure the “vehicle is capable of achieving a minimal risk condition,” can operate within the confines of all Kansas traffic and motor vehicle safety laws, and does not exceed 34,000 pounds on tandem axles until July 2, 2025.
Gatik uses Class 3-6 vehicles. The company recently announced it had started operations in Texas as part of the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ). MIZ is a purpose-built industrial development in north Texas that has been designed as a hub of supply chain innovation. The development plays host to a number of companies, including autonomous vehicle developer TuSimple, drone companies and railroads. All the companies participating in the program are involved in moving live freight.