In a vision of the future seemingly straight out of a Pixar film, groceries may soon be delivered to stores by trucks that drive themselves. Gatik, a company that creates autonomous middle-mile logistics technology, announced Tuesday (Aug 31) that it had raised $85 million in Series B funding to grow its network across North America. The round brings the company’s total funding to $114.5 million.
Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the United States, has partnered with Gatik on autonomous delivery tests, as has Canadian food retailer Loblaw. Now, growing its network, Gatik could present more grocers in more areas with a solution to one of the most pressing problems facing the industry — the shortage of workers leading to rapid food inflation and mass out-of-stocks.
The United Kingdom offers some insight into the challenges that grocers and restaurants will face if no solutions emerge to alleviate the strain of the truck driver shortage. The country’s driver shortage is even more acute than in other areas, with Brexit red tape limiting the labor pool. Now, popular restaurant brands are removing top-selling items from menus, and grocers are warning consumers that holiday season out-of-stocks may dramatically change what Christmas will look like for many this year. While self-driving trucks may not solve the concurrent food supply issues impacting prices and availability worldwide, they can certainly help address this major factor.
While Gatik’s technology seems promising, some cast doubt on the feasibility of autonomous delivery solutions that require a large vehicle, believing that the technology will not be ready to hit the market any time in the foreseeable future.
“We’re still a long, long ways away from full-on self-driving cars, taking you wherever you want to go, and it’s going to require a lot of breakthroughs — artificial general intelligence and a bunch of other technologies,” Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of last-mile logistics robotics company Tortoise, told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “That’s in a distant future. I’m looking forward to it, but we’re not there yet.”
Still, the company’s $114.5 million in funding speaks for itself — investors have faith in its technology, encouraged by early tests and hopeful about its self-driving box trucks’ potential.
“The logistics industry is experiencing unprecedented disruption driven by the explosive growth of ecommerce, and demand for more efficient goods movement,” Chase Koch, president of lead investor Koch Disruptive Technologies, said in a statement. “Nowhere is this more pronounced than on the Middle Mile. Gatik’s transformational autonomous technology … address[es] the most prominent issues facing today’s supply chain.”
With the possibility of Gatik unrolling middle-mile automation across North America, the grocery industry is growing closer to a future in which every supply chain step is automated. Soon, automated warehouses may pass off orders to self-driving trucks, which will order to grocery stores (or their delivery-only robotics-powered dark stores) to assemble e-commerce orders that will be handed to consumer-facing delivery robots (such as drones or sidewalk robots), which will then bring the order straight the consumer, completing the entire process with limited human labor.