Two and a half years after Kodiak Robotics was founded with the goal of developing autonomous driving technology for trucks, the Mountain View-based startup has achieved a major milestone. In December 2020, several commercial delivery runs managed to cover more than 330 kilometers (205 miles) of highway in Texas between Dallas and Houston without a single intervention from a safety driver. Four of these ‘middle-mile’ trips succeeded with two trucks on their respective outbound and return trips, and four more in the same week.
Kodiak’s VP of Engineering, Andreas Wendel, mentioned that the trips were regular commercial trips with and without freight, and the route confronted the trucks with the usual difficulties and challenges of a trip on the highway. From the starting point to the on-ramp to the highway and from the departure from the highway and drive to the destination, a human driver controls the vehicle. The entire highway route thenwas driven autonomously without driver intervention.
However, the safety drivers are instructed to take control of the vehicle in ‘interesting’ scenarios. These include dangerous moments or those where the safety drivers – all experienced truck drivers – feel that the autonomous system is not handling them correctly. Such ‘interesting’ scenarios are then tested on the simulator and test track, and the system trained on it. Currently, Kodiak trucks encounter such ‘interesting’ cases on average every 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles).
Kodiak is using ten trucks, with public test drives in California using the latest version of the Kodiak Driver – Kodiak’s autonomous vehicle technology – and in Texas using a more mature version. Texas has no requirement of a safety driver or driver at all that is being in an autonomous vehicle while it is driving on public roads, California does. California currently restricts truck driving to L2 systems only. Thus, the Texas rules can be summarized this way:
What is not expressly prohibited is permitted.
The trucks used by Kodiak are so-called Class 8 trucks, the largest class allowed on public roads in the U.S., weighing 33,001 pounds (14,969kg) and above. The load and thus the weight have a significant impact on the vehicle’s handling. Among other things, braking distances and acceleration change greatly as a result and must be taken into account by the Kodiak Driver.
The Kodiak Driver also has to take into account errors made by other vehicles, such as when passenger cars get too close in front of the truck and the braking distance for the truck becomes too short. The vehicles themselves send up-to-date information about road works and the like to the Kodiak control center, from which this information is then passed on to the other trucks. There is no communication with any sensors in the road infrastructure, the trucks are completely autonomous.
Here are two more trips (there and back) during the day and at night.
In the next few years, Kodiak plans to start running the trips without safety drivers on the highway and then have local drivers get off and on at the highway entrance and exit. The trucks will then travel completely without people on board on the Texas highway between Dallas and Houston.
Here is also post by Andreas Wendel about this achievement on the Kodiak website.
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This article was also posted in German.