Don Burnette, who left Uber in March, and ex-venture capitalist Paz Eshel co-founded Kodiak Robotics in April to compete for business in an increasingly attractive target for autonomous vehicle tech: long-haul trucking. The Mountain View, California-based startup will use the funds to staff up on engineers and field a test fleet of AI-enabled big rigs loaded with laser Lidar sensors, radar, cameras, and computers.
“Long-haul self-driving trucks are the first place that we’re going to see this technology out into the world and we’re really excited about bringing that to bear,” co-founder and CEO Burnette told Forbes. Unlike at Uber, which had wanted to perfect both robo-taxi technology as well as automated trucks, Kodiak is fixated exclusively on the latter.
“There are a lot complexities when large organizations are running multiple platforms, particularly when one organization has some sort of priority over another,” Burnette said. “A company has to be 100-percent hyper-focused on one problem and one problem only. We plan to solve just the long-haul, self-driving truck problem.”
A growing driver shortage, estimated at about 50,000 truckers in the U.S. last year, and insatiable consumer demand for goods hauled by trucks creates an opening for an autonomous tech solution. Long highway runs from warehouse to warehouse are also easier for AI-enabled autonomous systems to master than chaotic city streets. As a result, competitors in the truck tech space now including Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, Embark, Starsky Robotics, TuSimple and Kache.ai, a stealthy company connected to Burnette’s former Uber and Google colleague Anthony Levandowski.