Autopilot

Self-driving semi trucks are now hauling cargo in and out of Houston

The company wants to make Texas "the home of self-driving trucks." PRNewsfoto/Kodiak Robotics

The Interstate 45 freight corridor between Houston and Dallas now serves as a testing ground for self-driving cargo trucks.

Silicon Valley startup Kodiak Robotics Inc. recently began sending its autonomous 18-wheel trucks on trips between Texas' two largest metro areas, co-founder and CEO Don Burnette says. The trucks are carrying paid cargo, but Kodiak won't identify the customer or customers. The company also won't say how many trips the trucks are making each day.

The Texas initiative represents Kodiak's first foray into commercial deliveries. Wired.com notes that pretty much every player in the autonomous truck sector has conducted tests in Texas or is carrying commercial loads in the Lone Star State, which boasts more than 2,300 miles of interstate highways.

For its part, Kodiak aims to make Texas "the home of self-driving trucks."

According to a 2016 report from the Texas Department of Transportation, nearly half of all truck freight in Texas goes through the I-45 corridor's 11 counties. In some spots, trucks make up more than one-fourth of the traffic in the corridor, which runs 276 miles from Galveston to where I-45 intersects with Interstate 20 in Dallas County, the TxDOT report says.

"The importance of the I‐45 freight corridor to the movement of goods extends beyond Texas because much of the freight originating or passing through the corridor is destined to other domestic and international markets," the report says.

For now, Burnette says, two people are aboard each Kodiak truck traveling between Houston and Dallas — a safety driver and a safety engineer.

"Dallas will be our home base for testing and operations for the foreseeable future," Burnette says. "Kodiak plans to continue refining and testing its trucks until the last truck-involved accident happens on public roads."

Kodiak's Dallas office, which opened in March, employs eight people. The company plans to relocate soon to new office space in the Dallas suburb of Lancaster, Burnette says.

At this time, Kodiak doesn't plan to hire any workers in Houston, he says.

From its base in the Dallas area, Kodiak envisions expanding its service to routes throughout Texas, but it's focusing solely on the Houston-to-Dallas route for the time being, Burnette says.

Kodiak picked Texas for its truck tests, in part, because of the "warm welcome" extended by Gov. Greg Abbott, TxDOT, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and other segments of the public sector, he says.

In addition, Burnette says, Kodiak chose Texas "because of its great people, freight-rich economy, reasonable regulatory structure, and robust infrastructure."

In 2017, Texas enacted laws enabling driverless vehicles, including long-haul trucks, to operate on the state's roads.

"Texas is a leader in the testing and implementation of connected and automated vehicles, and Kodiak's willingness to partner with academia and public agencies to ensure safe deployment of new technology will add significant value to our transportation system," Christopher Poe, assistant director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, says in a release.

Burnette, co-founder of Otto Trucking LLC, a self-driving truck startup purchased in 2016 by Uber Technologies Inc., and fellow entrepreneur Paz Eshel established Kodiak in 2018 to "redefine" long-haul trucking through self-driving technology.

Kodiak says its autonomous technology is designed to ease pressures facing the trucking industry, including a shortage of drivers and high turnover among drivers, while improving highway safety, fostering business efficiency, reducing traffic congestion, and cutting down on harmful emissions.

"Long-haul trucking is primed for autonomous technology," Kodiak says in a post on Medium. "Highway driving is more structured and predictable than urban driving. This means there are fewer decisions for drivers to make and [it's] a better fit for autonomous vehicles."

"As hard as it is to navigate city streets, autonomous vehicles are much closer to being able to drive on more structured interstate highways, which have no jaywalking pedestrians, no aggressive cyclists, and no runaway pets," Kodiak adds. "That's why we've focused on building technology specifically for long-haul trucks driving on highway routes, often referred to as the 'middle mile.'"

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Building Houston

 
 

These Houston-area entrepreneurs have something to celebrate this week. Photos courtesy of EY

Four entrepreneurs whose companies are in or near the Houston metro area have been named winners in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year regional competition and now will head to the national competition.

Local winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 Central South Award are:

  • Elliott Bouillion, founder and executive chairman of Bellaire-based Resource Environmental Solutions. The company helps clients with environmental mitigation, stormwater management and water quality, and climate adaptation and flood resilience.
  • Blake Brannon, founder and president of Brenham-based Brannon Industrial Group. The company buys and recycles scrap metal, provides waste and recycling services, rents out portable toilets, and offers sustainable printing services.
  • Dr. Juliet Breeze, founder and CEO of Houston-based Next Level Medical, which operates membership-model urgent care clinics.
  • Jamie Welch, president, CEO, and chief financial officer of Houston-based Kinetic Holdings, a midstream oil and natural gas operator in the Delaware Basin of West Texas and northern New Mexico.

Among the criteria used to select the regional winners were purpose, growth, impact, and entrepreneurial spirit.

“Each of these entrepreneurs has exhibited curiosity, ingenuity, and courage, and we are proud to celebrate this outstanding group of leaders and welcome them as valuable members of our Entrepreneur Of The Year community,” says Anna Tallent, co-director of the awards’ Central South program.

As regional award winners, these entrepreneurs will be considered for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 national awards, which will be presented in November. The overall Entrepreneur Of The Year winner at the national level then will move on to the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year program, which will name its top winner in June 2023.

In a news release, Breeze says she’s honored to be given such a prestigious award.

“This award is further validation that at Next Level, we are really on to something. Healthcare needs to be available to patients when and where they need it,” Breeze says.

Aside from the Houston-area winners, here are the other recipients of this year’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Central South Award:

  • CEO Amanda Baldwin and founder and Chairwoman Holly Thaggard of San Antonio-based Supergoop! The company makes and sells sunscreen-based skincare products.
  • Cory Brymer, founder and CEO of Hutto-based BryComm, a provider of technology and security infrastructure services.
  • William Chan, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based Iodine Software, a provider of AI-powered software for the healthcare industry.
  • Todd Dipaola, founder and CEO of Austin-based InMarket, which operates a platform for localized advertising.
  • Dr. David Ferguson, co-founder, president, and CEO of San Antonio-based Celebrate Dental & Braces, which has offices in five states.
  • Mark Floreani, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based FloSports, a streaming service for sporting events.
  • James Garvey, founder and CEO of Austin-based Self Financial, which offers credit-building loans.
  • Tim Heyl, founder and CEO of Austin-based Homeward, whose loans help buyers make all-cash offers for homes.
  • Joel Kocher, co-founder and CEO of Austin- based HumanN, a provider of superfood products.
  • JeVon McCormick, president and CEO of Austin-based book publisher Scribe Media.
  • Thomas Thill, CEO of San Antonio-based AmeriVet Veterinary Partners, an owner and operator of veterinary practices.

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