If you decide the problems of autonomous driving were a matter of money, they would have been solved long before that. That’s the main argument of Don Burnett, co-founder and CEO of autonomous trucking startup Kodiak Robotics, which expanded its business and hit milestones with a fraction of the funds that bigger players like Waymo have.
Over the past year, Kodiak has launched commercial pilots and partnered with Seva Logistics as well as USA Express, two large transport and logistics companies; began using two new autonomous freight lanes outside of Texas and raised $125 million Series Bbringing its total funding since 2018 to $165 million.
Kodiak, one of the few private companies in the autonomous vehicle market, lives by the principle of doing more with less. Burnett told us last year that Kodiak could roll out the operation on a commercial scale for $500 million. That’s about 10% of what Waymo raised and less than 25% of TuSimple’s IPO.
Kodiak is still committed to that goal and has now built a reputation for keeping a tight balance and putting even more emphasis on the pursuit of self-driving trucks. Only self-propelled trucks. Other problems with autonomy can be solved by someone else.
Someone else could also take care of sensor building and data labeling, which relies on third parties for such components, Burnett said. In Kodiak’s eyes, building a lidar in-house and investing time and resources in data labeling is nothing but a costly distraction from creating a safe and viable go-to-market strategy.
“I don’t see as much negativity around the markets as I hear publicly, and that gives me some optimism that this market is still interesting and healthy.” Don Burnett, co-founder and CEO of Kodiak Robotics
A year has passed since last time we interviewed burnett for this series, so we caught up to talk about how moving away from HD cards allowed Kodiak to expand into interstate freight lanes faster than the competition; how removable sensors will help scale the Kodiak; and why autonomous trucking might be immune to today’s bear market.
Editor’s note. The following interview, part of an ongoing series of interviews with founders who create transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.
TechCrunch: Autonomous trucking seems to be getting more competitive as the industry matures. What stands out Kodiak?
Burnett: An important part of the story we wanted to tell was the modularity of the system, as it was based on conversations with partners. Last month, we demonstrated how easy it is to replace one of our transducer pods in the field by a non-AV trained technician. (The Kodiak sensor units include one lidar, two radars and three cameras, and they replace the truck’s standard side mirrors.)
This last point was very important to us because the first question we get when we talk to almost anyone in the trucking industry is, “If I have an AV fleet, how do I maintain that fleet?”
We have focused on ensuring that the AV platform does not interfere with the existing scheduled maintenance infrastructure pipeline that exists for these partners. We think this is a unique offering that other people are overlooking and I think you will see a shift towards our developments and technologies in the next couple of years.
Can sensors be placed in any truck to make them autonomous?
Like this. We designed it in a way to be very truck vendor independent – we worked on all the big four platforms to ensure this design is compatible with all the different vendors in a clean and seamless way.
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