In Canadian first, Gatik and Loblaw take safety drivers out of autonomous delivery trucks

Gatik: this is "the first time that an autonomous trucking company has removed the safety driver from a daily delivery route in Canada."

Toronto and Palo Alto-based autonomous trucking company Gatik is setting fully driverless commercial trucks on the streets of Ontario.

Gatik announced Wednesday that through its partnership with Loblaw, the startup is taking safety drivers out of its vehicle – making them fully autonomous.

The move marks a Canadian first for fully driverless vehicles, as Gatik claimed that this is the first time that an autonomous trucking company has removed the safety driver from a daily delivery route in the country.

Since it was founded in 2017, Gatik has developed technology that automates short-haul, middle-mile delivery vehicles. Loblaw and Walmart are among Gatik’s main customers and it is through partnerships with both that the startup has been able to test its tech in real-life scenarios over the past few years.

When Gatik struck its deal with Loblaws in 2020, it was considered the country’s first autonomous delivery fleet. At the time, Gatik’s vehicles operated on a “constrained Level 4,” which means the trucks had high levels of autonomy with a safety driver on board who could override if needed.

A spokesperson for Gatik told BetaKit that the trucks now operate at Level 4, which is the second highest level of driving autonomy as defined by SAE International. Level 4 falls just shy of the full autonomy of Level 5, the former means drivers are not involved in the process but the cars have certain limits still imposed. Level 5 means autonomous vehicles are operating without any limitations.

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Gatik is able to have driverless cars on public roads due to a pilot program run by the Government of Ontario. In 2016, Ontario launched a ten-year pilot for autonomous vehicles, which was expanded in 2019 to allow for the testing of driverless vehicles on public roads for registered pilot participants. Gatik expanded into Canada around that same time and currently operates with a permit from Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation under that pilot program, with its vehicles able to travel across the GTA on semi-urban and urban roads, as well as highways. The limits that Gatik still works under include the fact that its vehicles travel on fixed routes.

According to The Globe and Mail, Gatik has undertaken reviews with municipal authorities, and police and emergency services agencies in Peel Region, Brampton, and Mississauga in addition to having provincial authorization. The Globe reported that Loblaw also commissioned a third-party safety assessment that Gatik passed. According to Gatik, the company and Loblaw have transported more than 150,000 autonomous deliveries (with a safety driver on board) over the last couple of years. The startup claims that it has had a 100 percent safety record in that time.

Gatik claims the same record across each of its deployment sites in Canada and the United States (US). In the US, Gatik launched its very first fully driverless vehicles last year with Walmart. Koch Industries subsidiary KBX and global pulp and paper company Georgia-Pacific are also Gatik customers.

Autonomous trucks are where the quickest advances in self-driving vehicles are taking place. Speaking with BetaKit, Raed Kadri, the head of the Ontario Government’s Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN), noted that when it comes to commercially available autonomous vehicles today the highest on roads today is around Level 3 (which requires a safety driver).

Gatik has raised more than $144 million CAD to date, and has backing from Loblaw-backed Wittington Ventures. Gatik’s over backers include Koch Disruptive Technologies, Intact Ventures, Innovation Endeavors — the VC firm of former Google CEO and executive chairman Eric Schmidt — FM Capital, Dynamo Ventures, and Trucks VC.

Feature image courtesy of Gatik.

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Senior Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.

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