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April 7, 2022 9:00 AM, EDT

U.S. Xpress, Kodiak Partner on Autonomous Freight Program

KodiakU.S. Xpress/Kodiak Robotics

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U.S. Xpress Enterprises and the self-driving trucking company Kodiak Robotics Inc. are teaming to run an autonomous freight route, the companies announced April 7.

The Kodiak Partner Deployment Program aims to work with carriers to establish autonomous freight operations. U.S. Xpress will become the first truckload partner in the program. Its autonomous route will run between the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas and Atlanta.

“We are really excited,” Kodiak founder Don Burnette told Transport Topics. “This is a big deal for Kodiak. I think this is a big deal for the industry where most of our competitors are really focusing on intrastate routes, primarily in Texas, these days. This is a first-of-its-kind multistate, multiday, constant motion demonstration of autonomy.”

The Dallas and Atlanta route was chosen as the entry point because it’s slightly longer than what a driver is permitted to operate in a day but is too short to economically run as a team.

U.S. Xpress and Kodiak have already run a pilot program to test the route.

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“This pilot demonstrated to our operations teams and our customers the benefits that can come with autonomous technology,” U.S. Xpress CEO Eric Fuller said. “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. Our strategic partnership is helping both of our teams identify ways to quickly integrate and scale autonomous technology into our fleet once it is commercially available.”

The pilot involved a Kodiak truck that hauled U.S. Xpress trailers. The truck was able to run four round trips in late March. It delivered eight commercial loads during its approximately 6,350-mile journey and ran around the clock for 131 total hours. The results showed a more than 100% increase in utilization compared with a traditional truck and professional driver with an 11 hours-of-service limit.

“We’re very optimistic and bullish about the future,” Burnette said. “And we think that U.S. Xpress has a really strong technology-focused view on the direction for where the freight industry is heading. So, this has been a great partnership. They’ve been a great partner to work with.”

Burnette noted the pilot allowed the two companies to work out all of the kinks. But the intention is to now make the partnership a regular commercial effort. Kodiak has already been delivering freight daily on the 240-mile lane from Dallas to Houston since mid-2019 as well as the 280-mile lane between Dallas and San Antonio since mid-2021.

“We’ve been running commercial freight with various partners for over three years now,” Burnette said. “We were driving Dallas to Houston and then we expanded Dallas to San Antonio. And we recently announced Dallas to Oklahoma City with a great partner in Ceva Logistics. So we’ve had a lot of time prior to this instance to really work out a lot of the nitty-gritty details. And so, we were really pleased to see that this operation went off without much of a hitch.”

U.S. Xpress and Kodiak noted in the announcement that the technology used will count as Level 4 autonomous. That means the truck does not require human interaction in most circumstances, but a driver still has the option to manually override. It is just one below the highest class designation for autonomous vehicles.

U.S. Xpress ranks No. 21 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America and No. 47 on the TT Top 50 list of the largest logistics companies in North America.

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