January 19, 2021 10:30 AM, EST

Kodiak Begins Regular Disengage-Free Autonomous Deliveries

Kodiak Robotics screenshotKodiak Robotics via YouTube

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Kodiak Robotics Inc. announced trucks equipped with its Kodiak Driver autonomous system have begun making regular disengage-free customer deliveries on the middle-mile route on Interstate 45 between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

Kodiak, founded in 2018, operates a fleet of 10 trucks it uses for a mix of hauling freight and development testing. The company noted it recently had a disengage-free day, completing two round-trips in a row —more than 800 miles straight — without a disengagement.

“Kodiak’s first disengage-free deliveries are an incredible milestone for the autonomous trucking industry,” co-founder and CEO Don Burnette said in a release. “These deliveries were not stunts for the press or demos for investors. We used our production hardware and software, without resorting to shortcuts that only work under constrained conditions.

“I have spent my career working on self-driving vehicles, and Kodiak’s regular disengage-free deliveries are without question the most exciting achievement I’ve ever been a part of.”

His previous experience in the field occurred at Uber, Otto and Google.

Video footage from inside the cab showed Kodiak Driver controlled the 18-wheeler on the interstate, moving at 65 mph unless it slowed to allow cars entering from the ramp ahead to join the flow, or reduced speed when the truck approached a work zone. Kodiak Driver also moved the truck to the middle lane to clear vehicles parked on the shoulder. Otherwise, it traveled in the right lane. A safety driver observed it all from behind the wheel.

The video footage, available on the company’s website, appeared to underscore what Burnette told Transport Topics in June.

“The fact is, once people get used to them, self-driving trucks will actually be pretty boring,” Burnette said then. “They’ll largely stay in the right lane, they’ll never weave in and out of traffic, and they’ll never speed.”

Kodiak Head of Policy Daniel Goff told TT in January, “We still have a ways to go to get from regular disengage-free deliveries to deploying our technology without a [human] driver, but that is the goal.”

He added that over the past 18 months, the system had disengaged “a fair number of times for a number of reasons.”

“We strongly encourage, and indeed expect, our safety drivers to disengage the Kodiak Driver whenever they feel it necessary to maintain safety,” Goff said. “Anything that causes a driver to disengage is worth evaluating from an engineering perspective. By carefully analyzing every disengagement, we help make sure we’re always making progress.”

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company also noted it achieved its milestone as Kodiak became the first self-driving trucking startup to be selected as a CES 2021 Innovation Awards Honoree.

Meanwhile, in its latest voluntary safety assessment, the company described key features of its system.

  • The Kodiak Driver steers using commercial-grade steering columns designed specifically for trucks. As the company approaches deployment, it plans on using dual-redundant electric motors, so that the Kodiak Driver can maintain control even if one motor should fail.
  • The Kodiak Driver’s sensors have overlapping fields of view, so that every region around the truck is seen by multiple sensors to ensure the Kodiak Driver can understand its surroundings, even if a sensor fails.
  • The Kodiak Driver actuates the vehicle on redundant, fault-tolerant computers that run independently from the main computer and know how to bring the truck to a safe stop if the main computer should fail.

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