Self-driving trucks begin deliveries in Texas.

Self-driving vehicles have been a massive conversation topic in the past decade, and have revolutionized the way we look at cars. But when you think about these vehicles, it’s usually a small car driving down a quiet street, or reversing into a parking spot. What about self-driving trucks? In August, 16 months after its founding, autonomous trucking startup Kodiak Robotics made its first commercial deliveries in Texas. The company’s fleet of eight trucks set off with human safety drivers behind the wheels, for now. The idea of a 40-ton vehicle being driven by technology might seem daunting, but the technological innovation could save lives and, simply put, it makes sense.

It’s no secret that truck drivers work long, tiring hours. Too often we see articles about drivers falling asleep, or crashing because of a mistake they made due to fatigue. In fact, research has found being tired behind the wheel is just as bad as being over the drink-driving limit. Even when following federal regulations, it’s a major safety concern for truck drivers to be working long, odd-hour shifts and driving a heavy vehicle, on consecutive days. In 2017, there was a national shortage of over 50,000 truck drivers, potentially because of these safety concerns.

But without the trucking industry America would shut down. 75% of the US depends on the trucking industry to make deliveries, according to Teletrac Navman. Truck drivers move about 10.5 billion tons of freight, and drive roughly 125,000 miles, each year.

This high demand, met with safety concerns, is exactly why Don Burnette and Paz Eshel founded Kodiak Robotics. The startup is revolutionizing and re-defining the trucking industry with self-driving freight trucks. This tech not only eliminates the need for tired drivers to be doing long hours, but it also just makes sense. Long-haul trucking involves a lot of highway driving, something structured and predictable, and perfectly suited to self-driving vehicles. Kodiak Robotics says, “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. That’s why we’ve focused on building technology specifically for long-haul trucks driving on highway routes, often referred to as the ‘middle mile’”. These autonomous vehicles also require fewer stops, so more efficient drive times can be accomplished.

The company built its software from scratch, rather than working from existing self-driving tech. In this way, the software is built for the trucks, so there’s no need to adaptor modify. This technology was then tested in simulations, and then on closed roads, before Kodiak Robotics rolled out the real thing across the state.

Before Kodiak Robotics, CEO Don Burnette worked on Google’s self-driving project and autonomous vehicle startup Otto. He says, “As industry veterans, we’ve seen where self-driving technology has fallen short, and have a clear vision for how to make it work and work safely.”

“Our trucks will not drive drunk, distracted or drowsy. Our trucks will never speed, or text while driving. While humans often repeat their mistakes, software learns from them. Most importantly, we will not put a truck on the road without a human behind the wheel until we have proven that our trucks are safer than a human driver. Full stop.”

Are you working with autonomous tech? Did you know your R&D work could be eligible for the R&D Tax Credit and you can receive up to 14% back on your expenses? To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today or check out our free online eligibility test.

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