gatik announced today that it will expand its operations into Kansas following the signing of Senate Act 313 by Governor Laura Kelly. The law allows the deployment of Gatik’s SAE Level 4 self-driving medium-duty trucks on public roads in the state.
In a press release, Gatik said they have “worked closely with Walmart”
and key stakeholders, including the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Governor’s Office, House and Senate leadership, and the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association to develop and propose legislation that prioritizes the safe and structured introduction of autonomous vehicles in the state.”
A hearty dialogue about all things Level 4 will be launched with an “autonomous vehicle advisory committee” in Kansas, established in law, composed of representatives of the state government, labor interests, vehicle manufacturers, system developers, industry associations and others. Gatik said they will work closely with state and local authorities to provide education and training sessions for law enforcement officers and first responders before starting operations.
The legislation is broader than the Gatik use case specifically, stating that “the driverless vehicle must not exceed £34,000 on tandem axles.” This means that robot axles are good to go, but tractor-trailer combinations, which have more than two axles, are out of the question. For the time being, at least: the law also says that this provision “expires and has no effect on and after July 1, 2025.” It seems lawmakers weren’t ready to tackle the bigger platforms just yet.
Gatik’s policy partnership with Walmart is formidable, ultimately allowing the solution to be rapidly implemented and scaled up in an increasing number of markets. Gatik and Walmart have previously worked with state legislators and regulators in multiple jurisdictions. In 2019, Walmart and Gatik proposed legislation in Arkansas to start commercial operations. In 2020, the companies received approval from the Arkansas State Highway Commission to remove the safety driver from Gatik’s autonomous trucks, after completing 18 months of successful operations. Richard Steiner, Gatik’s head of policy, noted that “this new Kansas law makes Sunflower State the 25th in the US to allow fully autonomous vehicles on public roads.”
Gatik is a member of the Autonomous Vehicles Industry Associationa key player in the level 4 policy space, including a wide range of level 4 system developers for multiple use cases for both freight and passenger transport.
Gatik began commercial operations in 2019. Since then, the company says they have achieved “a 100 percent safety record across multiple operational locations in North America, including Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Ontario.” Last year, as a milestone for the entire Automated Vehicles (AV) industry, Gatik became the first company to perform fully self-driving commercial deliveries on an average-mile Walmart delivery route. Their operational design domain focuses solely on fixed, repeatable delivery routes, which are a good fit for Walmart’s operations between distribution centers and regional stores. Gatik is supported by Koch Disruptive Technologies, Innovation Endeavours, Wittington Ventures and others. Industry partners include Ryder, Goodyear
The AV policy landscape is changing
In the early days of AV, before the rise of startups, it was mostly the auto companies that approached states and places requesting permission to drive automated vehicles, both robo-taxis and private vehicles. The car guys are still very much focused on Level 3 allowance, as evidenced by the recent launch of the Mercedes Drive Pilot Level 3 system in Germany, after a long and concerted effort between European car manufacturers and the German authorities.
At least in the US, the players at the Level 4 policy table have shifted sharply to the trucking startups in recent years. These startups requested and were granted permission to conduct tests on public roads with safety drivers monitoring the development of self-driving systems.
Now, the progress from testing to actual implementation has brought in a whole new batch of people. I’m talking about the end users of self-driving trucks, the shippers, retailers and e-commerce companies that are increasingly using autonomous technology to address critical pain points in their supply chains. These companies, many of them well-known names, are focused on serving their end customers. They are advanced players, well known to politicians and state governments. That’s the situation here in terms of Walmart’s involvement with Gatik on the policy front, and they’re not alone.
I just finished a few days in Würzburg, Germany at the CARHS Auto(nom) Mobil Conference on Automated Driving† This was a fantastic event made up of key decision makers and experts from government and industry focused on passenger car space. During the conference, they grappled with the myriad challenges of introducing Level 4 private cars at a later date, based on a decades-long interplay between government and industry as automotive technology evolved. There was a time when the vehicle regulatory space was only made up of these kinds of traditional players.
Today’s news paints a different picture of who could be shaping the Level 4 regulatory landscape of the future. Shippers and truck fleets announced as partners by the AV truck developers include Amazon
x, UPS, Knight Swift and US Xpress. The list is growing fast. Here are the key stakeholders: their activities affect ordinary people who don’t care ‘how’ they got their package, they’re just glad it came quickly and didn’t cost too much to deliver. The retailers in particular have a lot at stake, as their brands are affixed to these self-driving trucks. They are highly motivated to ensure operations are safe and these trucks are “good neighbors” on the road.
I expect that the US federal government will eventually take final steps in the level 4 benefit. But in the current vacuum of federal action, states are “where it is”. Freight interests are at the forefront, supported by government agencies looking to solve supply chain challenges. Gatik’s partnership with Walmart is a model that greatly benefits both parties – facilitating the rapid expansion of Gatik’s autonomous delivery network for short-haul B2B logistics, and enabling more Walmart customers to take advantage of the short-term benefit of the company. benefits of autonomous delivery.
Disclosure: I am an advisor to Gatik.