Presented by Kodiak

“This is a pivotal moment in the autonomous vehicle industry — self-driving trucking is here and we have a solution that will scale,” says Don Burnette, Founder and CEO of autonomous trucking company Kodiak. “Autonomous trucking is no longer a research project and the technology is now in the validation stage.”

With the technology almost deployment-ready, autonomous trucking developers have turned their attention to commercialization, creating models for how to bring these vehicles to market and deploy them in fleets. But how close are we to the day that fully autonomous commercial vehicles will take to the highways? Burnette says that day is closer than you’d think.

“We will get to a completely driverless product in the next couple of years,” he explains, “and we’ll scale the technology after that.”

Gaining a foothold in the commercial market

In addition to the final development work and building its safety case, Kodiak is working closely with partners through its Partner Deployment Program to collectively understand how AVs can best be integrated into their operations, so that partners are ready to deploy Kodiak technology when the time comes.

“It is our technical and commercial progress and operations that position Kodiak as both the tech and commercial leader in the industry,” Burnette says. “And we’ve added several large commercial partners along the way.” Some of these partnerships include:

  • Seven days a week, Kodiak currently transports IKEA products between the IKEA Distribution Center in Baytown, Texas and the IKEA Store in Frisco, outside of Dallas.
  • In a partnership with C.R. England, Inc., one of the nation’s leading truckload carriers, Kodiak is shipping time-sensitive Tyson Foods products between Dallas and San Antonio, using Kodiak self-driving trucks and C.R. England refrigerated trailers. 
  • With transportation and logistics company Werner, Kodiak kicked off a week-long pilot program showcasing 24/7 long-haul freight operations, to demonstrate how efficiently autonomous trucks can be used with a transfer hub model. Werner also joined Kodiak’s Partner Deployment Program, and is actively working with Kodiak to collaborate towards integrating the self-driving technology into Werner’s operations.
  • Forward Corp. partnered with Kodiak to run a 24/6 autonomous freight service between Dallas and Atlanta. Between August 2022 and June 2023, the self-driving truck delivered over 235 loads, driving more than 200,000 miles.

Commercial-ready technology: The modular approach

The Gen5 kodiakDriver is another big step towards self-driving commercial deployment. This generation optimizes the autonomous truck platform, leveraging a unique sensor fusion system and lightweight mapping approach to handle all aspects of highway driving and freight delivery. It’s smarter, with CPU processing power increased by 60%, and GPU performance increased by 130%. And it’s more streamlined, now that all sensors required for autonomous driving are contained in mirror-mounted SensorPods.

“This streamlined modularity moves sensors traditionally contained on the roof of a vehicle into the mirrors,” Burnette explains. “This addition through subtraction means fewer required modifications and touch points, which enables more cost-effective integration into trucks.”

The mirror placement also helps improve the kodiakDriver‘s perception on-road. Because roads are designed around a human driver’s line of sight, Kodiak’s SensorPods are integrated at the same height as a driver, maximizing road safety and improving perception. The SensorPods offer a better dual vantage point, providing redundancy and visibility on either side of the truck, as opposed to the single vantage point above the cab. In the event of damage to a sensor, such as from a rock or other piece of debris, dual-redundant sensors increase resiliency.

Gen5 also offers improved maintenance, allowing fleets to keep trucks on the road rather than waiting for a specialized tech to service them. An on-the-fly replacement of SensorPods can be performed in as little as ten minutes by anyone, maximizing uptime and customers’ revenue generation due to increased asset utilization. The damaged SensorPod can then be returned to Kodiak for evaluation and repair.

The company has also taken a modular approach to building the computing system, simplifying the integration of the system into the truck and making it easier to manage when the trucks are incorporated into a customer’s fleet. The company’s in-house compute system, networking and power distribution are consolidated into one physical unit, which can be built to accommodate the unique specs of each customer, giving more options for integration. The compute system also integrates with Kodiak’s Actuation Control Engine (ACE), two onboard, custom-designed safety computers which control the vehicle as it operates. One of the many crucial functions the proprietary ACE is responsible for is ensuring that Kodiak’s autonomous system can guide the truck to a safe stop when necessary.

Going beyond the trucking industry

Kodiak’s commercial traction goes beyond the trucking industry. Kodiak was recently awarded a $49.9 million, 24-month U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) contract to help automate future U.S. Army ground vehicles for the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle program. This contract represents a significant new market opportunity for Kodiak, as the U.S. Military looks to partner with civilian technology developers to adapt cutting-edge technologies for defense applications.

“One of the benefits of the kodiakDriver is that it is endlessly adaptable to efficiently fit other operational design domains,” Burnette says. “Kodiak is leveraging its commercial self-driving software to develop, test and deploy autonomous capabilities for driverless vehicles that further strengthen national security.”

In the first year of the program, Kodiak is building upon the company’s core competency by applying its autonomous software stack to Army specific use cases, including future Army vehicles. In year two, they’ll implement its autonomous driving system into off-road ATV-style vehicles that will keep soldiers out of harm’s way. These ATVs will help the Army navigate complex terrain, GPS-challenged environments, and operating remotely in unpredictable and austere conditions.

While initially developed for highway driving, Kodiak is demonstrating the dual-use capabilities of its technology, by bringing its commercial success to new, military-focused environments and vehicles. The efficiency with which the Kodiak Driver can be ported to new platforms is helping the military to operate at the speed of relevance. Traditionally R&D cycles take years or decades: Kodiak’s modular approach is demonstrating how autonomy can be quickly adapted to serve multiple use cases for faster development.

“The work being done in parallel to bring the kodiakDriver to commercialization and fulfill the requirements of the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle program are complementary, and broaden the driving abilities of the kodiakDriver,” Burnette explains. “The goal is to bring the safety and efficiency benefits of autonomy to other military and industrial applications — but we remain focused on launching our driverless solution for trucking and bringing it to the fleets of carriers.

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