Houston is now home to Kodiak and Ryder's autonomous "truckport" facility. Photo courtesy of Kodiak

In a major step toward driverless freight trucks hitting Houston-area roads, a facility for loading and unloading autonomous trucks opened recently near George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport

Miami-based transportation and logistics company Ryder operates the “truckport” for Mountain View, California-based Kodiak Robotics, which runs a network of autonomous freight trucks. The facility, located at 888 E. Airtex Dr., opened in December. It’s next to a Ryder maintenance center.

“The truckport can currently receive several truckloads per day, and the size of the Ryder facility provides the opportunity to scale much larger than that,” says Daniel Goff, director of external affairs at Kodiak.

“The number of employees stationed at the facility fluctuates day by day,” Goff adds. “Kodiak’s team that staffs the facility in this initial phase operates on a flexible schedule to align with the needs of the trucks that are utilizing the truckport.”

The Houston site is the first Kodiak truckport to be located at a Ryder facility. It serves freight routes to and from Houston, Dallas, and Oklahoma City.

Kodiak currently operates all routes with drivers on board, including its Houston-Dallas and Houston-Oklahoma City routes. The company plans to roll out its first driverless operations on Dallas-Houston route later this year, with the new Houston facility serving as a launchpad.

“Ryder’s industry-leading fleet services and vast footprint of service locations makes it an ideal partner as we scale autonomous trucks,” Don Burnette, founder and CEO of Kodiak, says in a news release. “Expanding our network of truckports with Ryder will enable us to operate autonomous trucks at scale with our customers.”

The most recent version of Kodiak’s truck debuted in Las Vegas at the recent 2024 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Kodiak says the truck is equipped with safety-oriented software and hardware (including braking, steering and sensors).

Kodiak’s sixth-generation truck builds on the company’s track record of real-world testing, which includes carrying 5,000 loads over more than 2.5 million miles.

Founded in 2018, Kodiak has been delivering freight in Texas since mid-2019, including on the Houston-Dallas route. Kodiak announced in 2022 that it had teamed up with Swedish retailer IKEA to pilot autonomous freight deliveries in Texas between the IKEA warehouse in Baytown and the IKEA store in Frisco.

Kodiak Robotics unveiled its driverless semi-truck technology this month, which is expected to hit Texas roads later this year. Photo via Kodiak

Driverless semi-truck tech to launch between Houston and Dallas later this year

coming soon

Kodiak Robotics is scaling up its driverless semi truck, which will initially carry cargo on a Houston-to-Dallas route that’s set to formally launch this year.

The most recent version of Kodiak’s truck debuted in Las Vegas at the recent 2024 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Mountain View, California-based Kodiak Robotics says the truck is equipped with safety-critical software and hardware (including braking, steering and sensors).

Kodiak’s sixth-generation truck builds on the company’s five years of real-world testing, which includes carrying 5,000 loads over more than 2.5 million miles.

“We’re the first and only company to have developed a feature-complete driverless semitruck with the level of automotive-grade safety redundancy necessary to deploy on public roads,” Don Burnette, founder and CEO of Kodiak, says in a news release.

“Over the course of 2.5 million miles, we’ve successfully demonstrated that our self-driving trucks can withstand the harsh environment of long-haul trucking from both a platform integrity and a software perspective,” he adds. “This truck fundamentally demonstrates that we’ve done the work necessary to safely handle driverless operations.”

Among the highlights of the sixth-generation truck are:

  • A pneumatic braking system controlled by Kodiak’s proprietary software.
  • A redundant steering system.
  • A proprietary safety computer.
  • A redundant power system.
  • Proprietary SensorPods for housing sensors.
  • Microphones designed to detect the presence of the sirens of emergency vehicles and other suspicious sounds.
  • An advanced communication system.

Founded in 2018, Kodiak has been delivering freight in Texas since mid-2019, including a Houston-to-Dallas route. Kodiak announced in 2022 that it had teamed up with Swedish retailer IKEA to pilot autonomous freight deliveries in Texas between the IKEA warehouse in Baytown and the IKEA store in Frisco.

This autonomous freight delivery provider has entered the Texas market. Photo via VAS

Volvo's self-driving tech company opens Texas office, announces Dallas-Houston freight

full speed ahead

A global car brand has expanded its autonomous transport-as-a-service company to Texas.

Volvo Autonomous Solutions, or VAS, announced it has established an office in Fort Worth to set up its first self-driving freight corridors between Dallas-Fort Worth and El Paso, as well as from Dallas to Houston. Ahead of commercial launch, VAS has started hauling freight for key customers like DHL and Uber Freight for testing purposes.

"At Volvo Autonomous Solutions, we believe the path to autonomy at scale is through reducing the friction and complications around ownership and operations for customers," says Nils Jaeger, president of VAS, in a news release. "This is why we have taken the decision to be the single interface to our customers and take full ownership of the elements required for commercial autonomous transport. With the opening of our office in Texas and start of operational activities, we are building the foundations for a transport solution that will change the way we move goods on highways."

As a part of the Volvo Group, VAS provides its Autonomous Transport Solutions — a combination of hardware, software, and services — to its customers.

"Through our Autonomous Transport Solution, our ambition is to create a new source of industry capacity that will ease some of the burden of the increasing demand for freight while also enabling local drivers to shift into short-haul jobs that will keep them closer to home. This will unlock significant efficiencies in the entire supply chain and benefit everyone in the transportation industry," says Sasko Cuklev, head of On-Road Solutions, in the release.

The company has a partnership with Aurora, which includes the integration of the Aurora Driver with Volvo's on-highway truck offering.

Autonomous freight tech development in Texas has ramped up, with Ikea testing deliveries last fall and Silicon Valley-based Kodiak Robotics entering the Texas market in 2019.

Cruise is kicking off its driverless ridehailing service in Austin. Photo via GetCruise.com

New self-driving car service from San Francisco officially cruises into Texas

ready to roll

A driverless ridehailing app has made its first expansion out of California — and it's rolled right into Texas.

Founded in San Francisco in 2013, Cruise has completed its first driverless rides in Austin, marking its official launch. The company has not announced any other expansion plans at the moment.

It was a quick turnaround for the company, which announced its intentions in the Capital City in September, calling the feat “going from zero to driverless in about 90 days.” The service is only in three cities so far — based in San Francisco and expanded out to Austin and Phoenix — but given the success of that timeline, it’s reasonable to expect much more as soon as the company announces it.

“Folks, we are entering the golden years of [autonomous vehicle] expansion,” tweeted Crusie CEO Kyle Vogt while announcing the achievement on December 20.

Vogt seems to be right, at least in Austin. News about driverless vehicles keeps popping up, from pioneering autonomous Lyft rides to independent delivery robots for Chick-fil-A and Ikea. A major difference is the patron; while most other autonomous driving news is centered on using the technology for a well-known company providing value in other spaces, Cruise is driving for itself. (It has, however, received investment funds from companies like Honda and Walmart.)

Rider testimony focuses on safety with an aura of giddiness. Even amid the novelty displayed in a video Vogt shared, riders talked about the vehicle’s caution and smoothness. A safety page on the company’s website claims several measures including constant 360-degree vision, a sensitivity to even very light external touch, and communication between fleet vehicles to assist in machine learning. And if all else fails, the company emphasizes “end-to-end redundancy,” meaning that the system can compensate for failures.

Few topics polarize Austinites like opinions on driverless vehicles and this city’s magnetism for testing experiences. Love it or hate it, this is quintessential Austin.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Coming soon — autonomous food delivery on Uber Eats. Photo courtesy of Nuro and Uber

Tech company inks 10-year deal with Uber to provide self-driving delivery service in Houston

automatic autos

Houstonians will soon be able to get completely autonomous delivery of their dinners, groceries, and more thanks to a new 10-year partnership.

Uber Technologies, Inc. and Nuro have cut a deal that will provide autonomous, electric vehicles for food deliveries in Houston and Mountain View, California, beginning his fall, according to a news release. A Bay Area expansion will follow, but Houston's no stranger to Nuro-powered deliveries. California-based Nuro has launched five delivery pilot programs in Houston since 2019 with partners Kroger, Walmart, CVS, Domino's, and FedEx.

With this new partnership, users will have access to meals, groceries, and other goods available on the Uber Eats platform — as well as the opportunity to support local businesses.

“Nuro and Uber share a vision in which technology can make everyday life just a little bit easier,” says Noah Zych, global head of autonomous mobility and delivery at Uber, in the release. “Nuro’s distinctive autonomous vehicles are a great match for the Uber platform, and this partnership will bring a compelling combination of innovation alongside the convenience, affordability and reliability our customers and merchants have come to expect.”

Nuro, which recently closed a $600 million series D round just under a year ago, is reportedly the first company to operate fully autonomous vehicles in three states —Arizona, California, and Texas.

“Our partnership with Uber underscores Nuro’s track record of partnering with the world’s leading brands to make autonomous delivery a seamless experience,” says Cosimo Leipold, head of partnerships at Nuro, in the release. “With our unique autonomous delivery vehicles and Uber’s phenomenal scale and reach, we can expand food delivery options from your favorite local mom-and-pop restaurants all the way to nationwide chains.”

The company tapped Houston as its first full-scale operational city. Nuro previously told InnovationMap that was because the city offered a wide range of variation in the infrastructure across Houston's neighborhoods.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, told InnovationMap in January 2020. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Autonomous Uber Eats coming soon — thanks to Nuro. Photo courtesy of Nuro and Uber

FedEx and Nuro are bringing last-mile delivery to Houstonians. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Autonomous delivery company joins forces with FedEx for new pilot in Houston

self-driving mail

A tech company with self-driving robots deployed across Houston delivering pizza, groceries, and more has yet again launched a new pilot program — this time focused on parcel delivery.

Nuro and FedEx announced a new partnership to deploy Nuro's technology for last-mile delivery at a large scale with FedEx.

"FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy," says Rebecca Yeung, vice president of advanced technology and innovation at FedEx, in a news release. "We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations."

The new pilot, which began in April, according to the release, is the latest in the FedEx portfolio of autonomous same-day and specialty delivery devices. The partnership allows for FedEx to be able to explore various use cases for autonomous vehicle logistics, like multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries. Meanwhile for Nuro, it's the company's first expansion into parcel logistics.

"Working with FedEx—the global leader in logistics—is an incredible opportunity to rethink every aspect of local delivery. This multi-year commitment will allow us to truly collaborate and bring Nuro's powerful technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partnerships, in the release. "Our collaboration will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer. The most recent pilot program — pizza delivery with Domino's — officially went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year.

Nuro's expansion in Houston has a lot to do with the legislation that's happening at the state level. Last year, Nuro was granted its exemption petition from the United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This move is a first for DOT, and it allowed Nuro to roll out its vehicles on public roads without the features of traditional, passenger-carrying vehicles — like side mirrors or windshields, for instance.

The city also just offers a lot of opportunities to try out various neighborhoods and environments.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Nuro Product Operations Manager Sola Lawal says an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.