August 6, 2019

Self-driving truck startup runs freight routes in Texas

Self-driving truck startup runs freight routes in Texas

Kodiak Robotics makes first commercial deliveries, focuses on "middle mile" highway routes, firm says.

By Ben Ames

A startup firm developing self-driving trucks has started making its first commercial deliveries—with a safety driver behind the wheel—and opened a testing and freight operations office in Dallas, Kodiak Robotics said today.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Kodiak says it has now launched freight operations for customers in Texas and has a "growing" fleet of trucks, although it did not offer specific numbers for either claim. Founded in 2018, the company is backed by investors including Battery Ventures, CRV, Lightspeed Ventures, and Tusk Ventures.

By launching commercial operations, Kodiak is making a tangible step in an industry known for advancing in fits and starts. In 2016, ride-hailing pioneer Uber Technologies Inc. acquired the autonomous trucking startup Otto for a reported $680 million, but announced in 2018 that it had closed its autonomous truck unit in favor of developing self-driving cars.

Other firms have conducted various test runs of autonomous trucking technology, but have not yet launched freight operations. Automaker Daimler Trucks in May said it had launched a $570 million Autonomous Technology Group to focus on the U.S. market. And in 2017, autonomous trucking developer Embark Technology said it had teamed with Ryder System Inc. to conduct four self-driving truck tests in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

Meanwhile, automated vehicle systems developer Peloton Technology and electric car maker Tesla are developing "platooning" technology that links driving controls so a human driver in one truck can lead autonomous vehicles trailing behind.

In that context, Kodiak defines itself as a "true freight carrier," with its self-driving trucks operating on "middle mile" highway routes. The company says that self-driving trucks are poised to make highways safer while reducing the cost of carrying freight and, for longer routes, the time it takes to move goods.

"Over the last few months, there's been a wave of pessimism about the future of self-driving technology. Some of that pessimism is warranted — we're still a long way from being able to hail a self-driving taxi on the crowded streets of New York or San Francisco or Austin," Kodiak said in a corporate blog post. "But at Kodiak we think all the gloom is a bit premature. As hard as it is to navigate city streets, autonomous vehicles are much closer to being able to drive on more structured interstate highways, which have no jaywalking pedestrians, no aggressive cyclists, and no runaway pets."

After testing its new technology in simulation, on closed test tracks, and on public roads in California, Kodiak said today it has chosen to make Texas its home base for future testing and operations. "We chose Texas because of its great people, freight-rich economy, reasonable regulatory structure, and robust infrastructure," the firm said in its blog post.

In turn, officials in Texas complemented Kodiak for its willingness to partner with academia and public agencies "to ensure safe deployment of new technology," according to a statement from Christopher Poe, assistant agency director and connected automated transportation strategy lead at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

"We're pleased to welcome Kodiak to Dallas-Fort Worth," Thomas Bamonte, senior program manager, automated vehicles, for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said in a release. "As a region adding more than 1 million new residents each decade, it is important to develop a comprehensive strategy for the safe and reliable movement of people and goods. Our policy officials on the Regional Transportation Council have been very forward-thinking in their recognition of technology as part of the answer, which is positioning our region as a leader in the automated vehicle industry."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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