Safety From the Start

  • Updates from Gatik
  • May 23, 2024
Safety From the Start

The debate over autonomous vehicle (AV) safety has been discussed and analyzed since before AV technology even existed. Taking away the main safety device that has existed in vehicles – the human driver – since we first transitioned from horse-drawn carriages is a concept that of course requires explanation and understanding. As the dawn of the next revolution in ground transportation is upon us, how do we ensure that our roadways are safe, reliably? Recently, Dr. Adam Campbell, Gatik’s Senior Manager of Safety Innovation and Impact, discussed the issue on the SAE’s Tomorrow Today podcast.

Safety is paramount in the AV industry; an industry built upon the belief that technology can not only simplify our lives but also save thousands of lives in the process. While there is still much learning development to be done, and rare incidents garner mass exposure, it’s important to understand that creating a truly autonomous mode of transportation is not a blanket exercise. Just as a human would be required to hold a different license to drive a Class 7 truck vs. a standard passenger vehicle, so too must developers of autonomous vehicles take different approaches to creating varying types of vehicles that address different use cases.

A Unique Application

We own the middle mile. More than just a clever tag line, it encapsulates the Gatik business model. Gatik’s application of the middle mile is different from its traditional notion. Historically, the middle mile of the supply chain represented the leg traveled on long haul highway routes, after the first-mile getting to the highway, and after the last-mile exiting the highway and traveling to a warehouse or point-of-sale. Gatik’s middle-mile exists in relatively modern hub-and-spoke supply chain models, which have emerged in response to customer demand for rapid (same or next-day) delivery and contactless service. This customer pressure has moved distribution center locations closer to urban areas, meaning that the traditionally highway-focused routes of the middle mile have transformed to routes within urban and semi-urban settings.

Inherently Safe

Our model of known and repeatable routes not only helps ensure greater efficiency and reliability, but also allows us to deliver a level of safety. While points A and B are defined for us by our customer routes, we decide upon the exact route between those two points to get us there and back. These routes are rigorously mapped and objectively assessed for their overall collision-risk profile to assure that they provide the utmost in collision risk mitigation among the available route options and of course align with the capabilities of our autonomous vehicle platform, and the operational domain. The power of this choice is that we can incorporate the strengths of structured autonomy AND transportation safety into a synergistic benefit that other use-cases simply do not allow for.

Given that Gatik vehicles carry goods, and not people, we are able to optimize the route for safety while balancing the efficiency needed to reliably deliver on-time for our customers. We avoid school zones and other areas of high pedestrian traffic like hospitals or midblock crossing locations. We can make time-of-day adjustments, when necessary, to the routes where there are known peaks in pedestrian/bicyclist/other vulnerable roadway user (VRU) activity. We can avoid areas containing emergency services, like police and fire stations, and we can tailor these decisions to local data as we observe it in real-time. These features are hard-wired into the DNA of Gatik’s technology and safety profile. Why? Simply, because the middle mile allows for it.

In practice, this method has proven incredibly effective, helping our customers improve their efficiencies and adapt to consumer demands in a safe and reliable way. You can learn more about our customers’ successes with Gatik’s services here.

Continuous Improvement

As the supply chain and roadways we rely on continue to evolve, our focus on safely and reliably scaling freight-only operations is relentless. All of our operations begin with the foundational safety device that we’re all accustomed to: a trained, professional driver. When deliveries begin on the pre-mapped routes, these individuals help to monitor the vehicle’s performance and assist in the data gathering that’s conducted while the vehicle is in service. That data feeds into our validation engine to better understand the operating design domain (ODD) including roadway infrastructure, roadway users, weather, lighting and other highly nuanced parameters, giving us a wealth of information about the true nature of the environments we operate in. From there our team is best able to create simulation environments that allow for continuous improvement of our software at scale and with transferability of those learnings across the entire fleet.

As Dr. Campbell pointed out on the podcast there is no “set it and forget it” situation with our software. Our process of continuous data gathering and validation allows for more reliable and safe operations. It’s part of the reason that after completing over 600k autonomous deliveries for our customers, Gatik has a 100% safety record.

Community Partnerships

But ultimately, it’s the people living in the communities we serve that are most impacted by this new technology. While we’re happy to highlight the numerous benefits we’re providing in partnership with our customers, it’s also imperative that we take the time to listen to their concerns and work to alleviate them. We are deeply involved in the process of collaborating with local law enforcement and state agencies around best practices and procedures to ensure that our approaches are understood and that they provide those stakeholders with the information and assurances they need. It’s vital for these agencies to understand how and where we operate, as well as how to engage with our vehicles in order to ensure they’re able to continuously deliver the highest levels of safety to their communities.

Dedication to transparency is key to building trust. The debate around safety in the AV industry will undoubtedly continue. For our part, we’ll continue to be open in our approach and our partnerships with the communities we and our customers serve. We’ve already helped usher in the next revolution in transportation, and now it’s clear that safer roads are starting in the middle mile.

Safety At Scale

In the end, roadway safety will only be achieved at any meaningful scale when there is a validated business case that provides continuous and long term value to our customers. The middle mile has surfaced as being the proving ground for both technology and business value, as evidenced by the scope of highly respected Fortune 500 companies that have adopted Gatik’s AV platform into their transportation networks. It is through the combination of our technology and the clear value it drives for our customers, that Gatik will continue the necessary work to scale safety even more broadly.

About Gatik

Gatik, the leader in autonomous middle mile logistics, is revolutionizing B2B logistics with autonomous transportation-as-a-service (ATaaS) and prioritizing safe, consistent deliveries and streamlining freight movement by reducing congestion. The company focuses on short-haul, B2B logistics for Fortune 500 retailers and in 2021 launched the world’s first fully driverless commercial transportation service with Walmart. Gatik’s Class 3-7 autonomous box trucks are commercially deployed in multiple markets including Texas, Arkansas, and Ontario. Gatik is partnered with industry leaders including Ryder, Goodyear and Isuzu. Founded in 2017 by veterans of the autonomous technology industry, the company has offices in Mountain View, Dallas Fort Worth and Toronto.