Kodiak Robotics and Forward Air Corp. are beginning thrice-weekly autonomous freight round-trip runs between Dallas and Atlanta using teams of safety drivers to comply with hours-of-service regulations that likely won’t apply to driverless trucks.
Mountain View, California-based Kodiak expects to pull the driver on specific routes in 2024. But for now, the biggest cost of moving freight — the driver — is still part of the picture. Kodiak uses four drivers rotating between local and long-haul driving by the week.
That means Kodiak will generate revenue on a per-mile basis. But it won’t make money on the runs, CEO Don Burnette said.
“We are not yet profitable on the route with a safety driver but are continuing to drive more efficiency in our operations as we get closer and closer to profitability,” he told FreightWaves. “Operating lanes like Dallas-Fort Worth to Atlanta play a key role in our development program. It’s not just running freight to run freight.”
Longer and more frequent autonomous runs
Routes using high-autonomy software monitored by a driver are getting longer and more frequent. The dedicated agreement between Kodiak and Forward Air calls for autonomous freight service 24 hours per day, six days per week.
Route density and uninterrupted freight movement are twin goals of autonomous trucking. Human drivers are allowed by law to operate only 11 of 24 hours in a day.
Robot-driven trucks theoretically could run around the clock because computers don’t get hungry, tired or distracted. But for computer-driven trucks to be safe, they need redundant steering, braking and power systems that take over in case of a system failure with no driver present to take control.
Kodiak has driven more than 100,000 miles for Forward
Forward Air provides asset-light transportation services across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It has used Kodiak to deliver more than 100 loads covering more than 100,000 autonomously driven miles since August 2022.
“While we don’t see autonomous trucks replacing independent contractor capacity, this could potentially be a scalable solution for certain lanes in our network,” Tom Schmitt, chairman, president and CEO of Forward, said.
Kodiak attributes its ability to operate consistent 24-hour service across the nearly 800-mile Dallas-Atlanta freight lane to its system’s reliability and ruggedness and its sparse mapping approach that updates fleetwide maps over the air in real time.
“The tweener lane between Dallas and Atlanta is long and difficult to staff, so it perfectly illustrates how autonomous trucks can make the supply chain more efficient and resilient and supplement our customers’ human-driven fleets,” Burnette said.
The Kodiak Driver system can operate for six days straight without needing rest or recalibration, he said.
Kodiak moves freight for fleets and carriers including Ikea, Werner Enterprises, U.S. Xpress, 10 Roads Express and Ceva Logistics.
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