- Autonomous trucking startup Kodiak Robotics announced a partnership Thursday with U.S. Xpress to launch Level 4 autonomous freight service between Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta using Kodiak trucks, according to a press release.
- The companies also announced the successful completion of a trial eight-segment, round-trip commercial haul between Dallas and Atlanta late last month. The pilot used a Kodiak truck and U.S. Xpress trailers to run 24 hours a day and complete the journey in 131 hours.
- Kodiak co-founder and CEO Don Burnette called the pilot a successful "stress test" of the technology. "Our technology can handle everything the highway throws at us," he said. "Now is the time to demonstrate what's possible with autonomous technology in terms of efficiency."
While human truck drivers are subject to 11-hour limits on driving time, Kodiak's self-driving trucks can run "until the gas tank is empty, essentially," Burnette said. The 131-hour drive time led to a more than 100% increase in utilization compared to a traditional truck, according to the press release.
During the 6,350-mile trip, a rotating team of four safety drivers oversaw the drive, swapping out drivers at checkpoints along the route.
"This pilot demonstrated to our operations teams and our customers the benefits that can come with autonomous technology," Eric Fuller, president and CEO of U.S. Xpress, said in a statement. "We fundamentally believe that Kodiak's autonomous technology will allow us to scale our fleet while increasing truck utilization compared to a human-driven truck."
U.S. Xpress will become the first truckload partner in Kodiak's Partner Deployment Program, working with Kodiak to deploy self-driving technology, according to the press release.
The U.S. Xpress partnership is Kodiak's second deal announced in the last month that extends the startup's route reach. In March, it announced a partnership with CEVA Logistics to deliver freight autonomously between Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin in addition to Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, the first companies to deliver freight autonomously in Oklahoma, according to a press release.
The CEVA announcement came months after Kodiak raised $125 million in a series B funding round, part of a growing wave of startups tackling the autonomous trucking sector through increased funding and strategic partnerships. Last month, autonomous middle mile delivery operator Gatik announced a partnership with electric vehicle charging provider ChargePoint to develop an "electric ecosystem" for its North American fleet.
Like competitors such as TuSimple and Embark Trucks, both of which have also announced new partnerships in recent months, Kodiak is now focused on expansion. Burnette said the company is hoping to go commercial with day-to-day operations of its trucks in the coming months, as well as expand its fleet size. The company also hopes to ultimately run trucks without safety drivers.
As the AV sector continues to grow, Burnette said the push in the market will be for companies to scale up their fleets and routes.
"It's going from confined pilots and controlled settings to much more commercial-style operations," he said. "There's still a lot that remains for us and others in our space to prove that we can actually provide a service that's valuable, that's safe, that's efficient. And that's where you're going to see a lot of movement.