In June, for the first time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data on crashes involving vehicles equipped with automated driving system (ADS) technology and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The nation’s top highway safety agency said that between July 2021 and May 2022, it received reports on 130 collisions involving ADS-equipped vehicles.
One company that was most notable by its absence in the report was Gatik, the market leader in autonomous middle-mile delivery. The company has not had a single reportable incident, maintaining an impeccable safety record across its commercial deployment sites, which include Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana in the U.S., as well as Ontario, Canada.
“Safety is something we’re obsessive about,” said Apeksha Kumavat, co-founder and chief engineer at Gatik. “Our meticulous approach to fail-safe operations involves key phases that validate our technology and provide critical operational insights. Each phase involves exhaustive simulation, closed-course system verification and validation before our autonomous trucks operate on public roads.”
The number of autonomous trucks on U.S. roads is rising rapidly as more carriers adopt autonomous technology, and national retailers and e-commerce companies look to move goods more quickly and efficiently to an increasingly impatient consumer base. A recent market analysis by Guidehouse Insights predicted there will be 1.2 million autonomous trucks and buses by 2032. Unsurprisingly, safety is top of mind for policymakers as an increasing number of states allow fully autonomous vehicles on public roads.
Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia permit autonomous vehicles to operate with no one on board, and an additional 21 states have implemented progressive autonomous vehicle policies. Gatik, working in partnership with Walmart, ensured that Kansas became the latest state to follow suit. As more states enable fully autonomous vehicle deployment, use cases that demonstrate an exemplary safety record will dominate commercially.
With a long list of heavy-hitting customers that include Walmart, Loblaw and most recently Georgia-Pacific, Gatik has demonstrated that commercially successful autonomous delivery is happening first in a constrained environment, on fixed, repeatable short-haul routes. The company has made a powerful statement to the rest of the autonomous trucking industry by establishing itself as the only autonomous middle-mile service provider in North America, and stands apart from other companies in the space given that it doesn’t haul goods directly to consumers.
Gatik focuses exclusively on a rapidly growing percentage of B2B short-haul routes, moving goods between microfulfilment centers, dark stores and retail locations in its fleet of Class 3 to 6 autonomous box trucks. That helps to increase asset utilization on the supply chain and keep delivery times short and costs low.
Last year, Gatik launched its fully driverless commercial delivery service with Walmart in Arkansas, the first time that an autonomous trucking company has removed the safety driver from a live, commercial middle-mile delivery route anywhere in the world. Gatik explained to FreightWaves that it will soon be pulling the safety driver from additional delivery routes as part of its comprehensive commercialization strategy across North America.
“Prior to commencing fully driverless operations in a new market, Gatik’s autonomous technology, system performance and cybersecurity considerations undergo an exhaustive independent third-party assessment to thoroughly evaluate and validate the safety and security of the entire system,” continued Kumavat. “Gatik’s fully driverless operations involve daily, revenue-generating runs that our fleet is completing safely in a range of urban geographies and distinct operating conditions. We’re excited to build on our groundbreaking deployment in Arkansas and bring the true advantages of autonomous delivery to new customers across the continent.”
Inherently, autonomous vehicles have a leg up compared to human drivers because they don’t fall victim to external factors that impede performance among some drivers. Autonomous vehicles do not get tired, consume substances that impair driving ability, drive beyond the speed limit, become distracted or disobey the rules of the road. Autonomous vehicles continuously monitor their local environments, developing awareness and predictions about what other roadway users may do, and are designed to rapidly execute the safest maneuver should the need arise.
Gatik takes a unique approach to ensure consistently safe, reliable operations. By constraining the operational design domain and opting for predictable, risk-mitigated routes, the company has been able to safely remove the driver on its commercial delivery routes more quickly than with other applications such as passenger transportation or B2C delivery. Gatik’s proprietary technology is based on a hybrid approach involving state-of-the-art deep learning techniques to capture nuances of driving at scale, classical robotics-based fallbacks as well as validation systems that prioritize safety at all times.
Driving on known, predictable routes allows for Gatik’s autonomous vehicle system to be hyper-tuned to the characteristics of a given operating environment, its nuances and local risks, all while being scalable across a diverse array of operating domains. Gatik’s vehicles are also monitored at all times by a remote supervisor, as well as a person in the passenger seat to ensure smooth transitions between stages of driverless operations.
The combined benefit of these approaches is that safety validation is achieved in relatively shorter time frames, which explains how Gatik has deployed its trucks in a significant number of markets with multiple customers, all while maintaining a flawless safety record.
“We take a holistic approach to safety. Safety is not achieved by any one factor, but the combination of best practices, multiple layers of system redundancy, cutting-edge techniques, exhaustive validation, sound engineering judgment and continually building upon our proven record of delivering exceptional results,” added Kumavat.
In the U.S. last year, there were 168,258 crashes and 5,246 fatalities involving large trucks, according to the most recent crash statistics data released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These staggering numbers only serve to highlight the value that autonomous vehicles can bring to our roadways, and that efforts to quantify the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles should continue in earnest.
While limited in the volume and scope of data collected, NHTSA’s inaugural autonomous vehicle report on crash data has already provided early insights into fundamental differences between crashes involving vehicles equipped with ADS versus those with Level 2 ADAS. The data indicated that when ADS was involved, the majority of impacts were to the rear of the vehicle, whereas when ADAS was used to support human drivers, most of the impacts were to the front of the vehicle. The difference in damage profiles suggests that current ADS technologies are an improvement upon human drivers in key situations (those that involve the risk of frontal impacts) — even when drivers are supported by ADAS technology.
Gatik’s approach to safety throughout the development and deployment of its vehicles demonstrates how it’s possible for autonomous trucks to integrate on the road successfully, and most importantly, safely. For its customers, Gatik is proving it’s possible to optimize profitable middle-mile delivery while protecting the most important thing: people.