Self-Driving Trucks Are Ready to Do Business

Written by Jennifer Clark
Posted August 7, 2019

Silicon Valley natives Don Burnette and Paz Eshel went looking for the best location that would allow them the freedoms they needed to do their research on self-driving trucks. The pair are building self-driving trucks through their year-old startup, Kodiak Robotics.

Burnette is a veteran of Google’s self-driving car project and Otto, the robotic trucking company acquired by Uber. And Eshel has a long list of enterprise startups and a background in venture capital. Both of them knew their home state of California wasn’t going to be an option for researching and building the technology for their self-driving trucks.

In California, it’s not legal to operate an autonomous truck. Regulations are being worked out throughout the state, but it's unclear how long that could take, and both Burnette and Eshel are determined to get self-driving trucks up and running.

Kodiak Robotics announced that Dallas, Texas, is where it will open up business. The company has an eight-employee office that will oversee its first self-driving trucks. The test route will have the trucks carrying a supply of goods between Dallas and Houston — roughly 400 miles round trip. 

These trucks won’t be entirely self-driving on their own — at least not yet. That’s still something that needs to be slowly incorporated into the industry and on the roads. As of right now, there will be a “safety driver” at the wheel to monitor the 18-wheeler and make sure it doesn’t have any issues during its trip.

The trips will be focused on highway driving for now. Leaving urban driving to humans will be the best decision until the technology has been around for a little bit longer. The company aims to carry freight on fully self-driving trucks from Dallas to almost every corner of Texas. 

Texas has a massive freight economy. In 2016, 2.2 billion tons of freight were moved. And the amount of space to research and test in Texas is a huge appeal to companies like Kodiak Robotics. There are long stretches of highway that make it ideal for testing and deploying self-driving trucks.

Texas also has more than accommodating regulations for truck developers. In 2017, the Texas legislature passed a pair of bills that legalized both driverless vehicles and platooning trucks. Automated vehicles have been legal to operate on Texas highways as long as they follow traffic laws.

States with no self-driving laws on the books allow for a case-by-case interpretation, allowing for companies interested in self-driving technology to experiment with the technology. Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, the founder of the startup Starsky Robotics, says, “If you’re a schmuck and piss people off, they’ll figure out how to make you illegal.”

Trucking companies testing self-driving technology in Texas say they are in direct contact with Texas authorities, and most public officials, like the Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Safety, and local chambers of commerce, are supportive of their efforts.

Robert Brown, who heads public affairs for TuSimple, had this to say about public officials: “They’re excited about the technology and how we can work together.”

Self-driving technology could bring a significant boost to the economy and take the load off some overworked truck drivers. States working together with these companies could see the benefit on the state economy and infrastructure, especially when highly valued companies are interested in funding what’s necessary in order to make their technology viable.

There are big things happening, and the nation could really benefit economically by adopting technology like self-driving vehicles and trucks.

Until next time,

Jennifer Clark
Pro Trader Today

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