Kodiak’s CEO Says Autonomous Trucks Ready to Hit Texas Roads

August 13, 2019

Kodiak Robotics' self-driving trucks are ready to make deliveries in the Dallas area.

"For us, this is just the first step," Don Burnette, CEO and co-founder of Kodiak Robotics told Cheddar Monday. "We're taking a very 'safety first' prudent approach to rolling this technology out, but we're now on the roads and really excited."

Based in Mountainview, California, Kodiak has only been around for about 16 months. Burnette also co-founded the now defunct autonomous trucking company Otto, which was shut down by parent-company Uber last summer. A week after leaving Uber, Burnette received $40 million in fresh funding to continue working on that same technology.

"It's primarily been put toward research and development," Burnette said. "We have a fleet of about eight trucks and we've been steadily building them up with our self-driving technology. [We've] been doing a lot of testing … daily here on the roads of California in the San Francisco Bay Area, really honing and perfecting the tech."

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled his company's semi truck prototype back in 2017, but has provided few updates on the venture since. Musk has sounded off on the use of LIDAR sensors for self-driving, calling them "expensive" and "unnecessary."

"LIDAR is a fool's errand," Musk said at Tesla's first Autonomy Day event in April. "Anyone relying on LIDAR is doomed. Doomed!"

While Burnette said that Kodiak does use long-range LIDAR sensors, he adds that this is combined with radar technology and cameras around the truck.

"We think of ourselves as integrators of this technology," Burnette said. "We're integrating them into a platform which we think is going to improve safety and deliver efficiency on our roads."

Burnette says that his team at Kodiak boasts industry veterans from the likes of Waymo, Apple, and his former company Otto, as one might expect. Fellow Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski became embroiled in controversy in February of 2017, accused of stealing documents from former employee Waymo. Uber and Waymo later reached a legal agreement and Levandowski was fired.

"The controversy was more of a distraction," Burnette said. "It certainly didn't affect the technological progress the team both at Otto and later at Uber continued to work extremely hard on, both the robo-taxi front, but also the trucking front."

Kodiak is building a second office in Texas as the company plans to ramp up testing and operations. Burnette listed a number of reasons why Texas made sense for Kodiak's rollout.

"Texas is a central hub for the country. Particularly, Dallas is really well-positioned for a lot of freight movement," Burnette said. "Beyond that, there's favorable weather, fantastic infrastructure, and really what we consider a reasonable regulatory environment."

Kodiak sought approval from several key government agencies within Texas including the Governor's office, the state's Department of Transportation, and the Department of Public Safety.

"They've just been incredibly welcoming, incredibly positive, incredibly excited about the work that we're doing and the benefits that this technology can bring," Burnette said. "Texas has just been a great partner for us so far."

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