Real World AI

Real World AI: Middle Mile Autonomous Delivery (Gatik)

AI is helping to revolutionize the product delivery supply chain through innovative middle mile solutions.


Gatik is a San Francisco-based company that’s making great strides in middle mile autonomous delivery through the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

Gatik’s innovative approach recognizes the challenges of autonomous systems and sets up a framework for operating efficiently and effectively through AI.

Gatik’s approach is resulting in business success and industry recognition—it’s been named on the Forbes AI 50 List of most promising AI companies in 2021.

What is the middle mile?

In product transport logistics, the middle mile is the part of the supply chain between a product’s point of origin and an intermediate logistics hub, such as a fulfillment center. The product’s point of origin could be a factory, sea port or airport, for instance.

The middle mile could also be between two intermediate logistics hubs, such as between a fulfillment and distribution center.

The last mile, which has received much attention over recent years, comes after the middle mile, eg. from a distribution center to customer premises.

So, why does the middle mile matter?

The middle mile has plenty of scope for efficiency gains and cost reductions compared with other parts of the supply chain.

Historically, manufacturers and distributors have focused on the supply chain before and after the middle mile, ie. the first mile and last mile. Efficiencies in these areas have steadily improved. But the middle mile has remained overlooked—till now—as firms like Gatik are helping to drive efficiencies in the middle mile.

What is autonomous delivery?

Autonomous delivery refers to the use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) for delivery in parts of the supply chain.

AVs are self-driving vehicles that are automated using AI.

There are different levels of autonomy in AVs, from heavily human-assisted to fully automated vehicles, and AI technology is now making full automation a viable solution for parts of the supply chain.

According to TWI Global, the advantages of AVs include improved safety (fewer on-road errors compared with human drivers) and less reliance on human assistance.

In transport logistics, AVs can also help to significantly improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

Gatik’s approach to middle mile autonomous delivery

Gatik’s focus is on business-to-business (B2B) short-haul logistics in the retail sector.

Gatik moves goods in urban environments over short distances, and from one business premises (eg. a fulfillment center) to another business premises (eg. a retail store or distribution center).

Since being founded in 2017, Gatik has grown quickly to become a leader in autonomous middle mile delivery.

Gatik operates its AVs over 7 days per week, 12 hours per day. Carefully planned routes are identified for each customer with fixed pick-up and drop-off locations—this helps to drive efficiencies.

The vehicles used for middle mile delivery are small commercial box trucks that are versatile and small enough to move comfortably between micro-distribution centers in urban environments. There’s a rising trend for this sort of delivery—smaller and more frequent trips—with the growth in online shopping.

Gatik box trucks are used for autonomous AI-powered delivery in urban environments

Each vehicle has been outfitted with Gatik’s AI technology to make it autonomous.

Although Gatik’s vehicles are autonomous, each truck has a human safety operator behind the wheel—for now.

Gatik plans to eventually run the AVs completely autonomously, without in-vehicle human assistance.

How Gatik uses autonomous AI

The key to Gatik’s success lies in its innovative use of autonomous AI technology. This includes:

Simplifying real-world technical challenges –

  • Using only repeatable, pre-determined delivery routes
  • Limiting the number of lane changes that autonomous vehicles can make
  • Allowing only right turns to be made by autonomous vehicles

Adopting a hybrid, easier-to-deploy approach toward AI system architecture –

  • Using micro-model neural networks rather than massive, monolithic deep neural networks
  • Restricting the functionality of the micro-models to specific and explainable tasks (harnessing the value of explainability in modern AI systems)
  • Building rules-based fallback and validation systems around the network architecture

Driving safety and efficiency through –

  • Using significantly less data for training and validation by (intentionally) overfitting models for the pre-determined (known) routes
  • Focusing on hyper-optimization of the micro-models, ie. making the most of the data available from the known routes
  • Ensuring sufficient redundancies at each level of the overall system

Gatik’s approach is being recognized as a versatile and robust implementation of autonomous AI, helping to boost efficiencies while remaining safe.

In summary

  • Autonomous AI is an emerging and challenging application of AI—Gatik is a company that’s successfully deploying autonomous AI through an innovative approach
  • Gatik focuses on middle mile delivery, a part of the supply chain that’s ripe for improvement
  • Through the use of carefully designed autonomous systems, Gatik can improve efficiencies and significantly reduce costs in the middle mile
  • Gatik’s approach reduces real-world technical challenges (pre-defined routes and limited maneuverability in autonomous vehicles), simplifies AI deployment (easy-to-train micro-models) and boosts system efficiency (low data requirements and hyper-optimization of micro-models)
  • Gatik has been recognized for its innovative use of AI by being named on the Forbes AI 50 List

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