2021 ALL STAR | MOBILITY
Gautam Narang has zero interest in delivering self-driving cars to the masses. He wants to solve a simplified challenge.
When he co-founded Gatik in 2017, he understood the problems associated with attempting to start a robotaxi service that served dozens of destinations. Self-driving vehicles capable of traversing the same routes again and again, however, felt within reach.
Narang, 31, has pioneered a niche now known as the "middle mile," where trucks ferry groceries and goods between distribution hubs and retail stores. Without needing to consider passenger efficiency or comfort, Gatik can operate on surface streets and design routes where making three right turns instead of a single, more complicated left makes sense.
"Two core things were actually that we could deliver on the promise of autonomy on a timeline that makes sense, and solve a real pain point," he said.
The market has responded. Gatik, which has raised $114.5 million in funding in venture capital to date, hauls goods for Walmart in Arkansas and Louisiana and Canadian grocery chain Loblaw. Gatik counts Ryder as a major investor, and the two companies are co-designing a national autonomous logistics network.
In August, Gatik reached a milestone: removing human safety drivers from behind the wheel and instead placing them in the passenger seat along a 7.1-mile commercial route it plies for Walmart in Bentonville, Ark. It's exactly the kind of use case Narang, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate, foresaw many years ago.
"We are doing this in a repeated, consistent manner, and we are getting paid for this," he said. "It's not the most direct route, but it's one where risk and exposure is the least. It goes back to how we think about taking these steps. … We're not solving the autonomy problem. We're solving a constrained problem, and this is what it looks like."