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A creative approach to solving a big (rig) problem

The executive leadership of Ike: Alden Woodrow, Nancy Sun, and Jur van den Berg. (Photo: Ike)

What do you get when you combine a last-mile delivery solution company with a semi? You get an autonomous truck startup that’s skipped a few steps ahead of the competition.

 In 2016, the promise of autonomous big rigs looked like the coming of the clone revolution. Investors were feeling the surge of love that can only come from the groupthink of hype machines rolling like the wheels of progress.

The time has come, the time is now. It’s time for Ike. Ike, named in honor of President Eisenhower, father of the interstate highway system, is coming out of stealth.

The folks who started Ike are some of the most experienced you can find in the space. Nancy Sun, Alden Woodrow, and Jur van den Berg are the dream team of self-driving trucks. 

It’s been a humbling time in the autonomous truck industry. Turns out, it’s really hard to make these things, the hype machine nothwithstanding. The promises of Tesla’s Semi seem like a plume of dust on the horizon. Waymo, Uber, Starsky, and Embark may be making strides but no one’s expecting Level 4 and 5 autonomous truck orders to start replacing fleets any time soon.

Meanwhile, the Ike team has a significant head start on the challenge thanks to an unprecedented partnership with Nuro, a company known for its pioneering driverless delivery services. Nuro’s last-mile delivery plan is to forge partnerships with businesses big and small seeking new ways to cost effectively transport goods and create new experiences for their customers. The company combines software and hardware expertise to design and build products that accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life. They’re led by world-renowned experts in robotics, AI and computer vision. So, there’s a sensible connection.

Nuro agreed to license its self-driving tech stack to Ike in exchange for a minority stake in the company, allowing Ike to essentially bypass the technical infrastructure development phase and get directly to the specific-to-trucking challenges. The Ike team estimates about two years worth of time and effort have been saved as a result.

“Ike is building self-driving technology to help improve the trucking industry,” Nancy Sun writes. “We licensed technology from Nuro, a leading robotics company with one of the best quality autonomy systems in the world, to propel our technical development and allow us to focus on tackling the hardest challenges of self-driving trucks on highways immediately. The Nuro partnership gives us both a big head start and an accelerant, which combined with our team’s deep expertise in trucking and autonomy, will enable us to build the safest, most reliable, and most useful product at scale. We are passionate about the trucking industry and are working with the best team and technology in the world to build a real commercial product.”  

Hype may often be a way that an industry announces itself, although humility may soon follow. The industry has seen its share of partnerships, and while there seems to have been a lull in results, it’s still very early. Many questions remain related to fuel sources and overall commercialization. Even if such problems are solved on a micro level, what about the macro level of state and federal regulation? As Wired has covered, federal rules for self-driving trucks got blocked up in Congress last year, and their future is uncertain.

 A visualization of lidar data—the primary technical formula for autonomous driving—from the Interstate 101-380 interchange south of San Francisco.  (Photo: Ike)
A visualization of lidar data—the primary technical formula for autonomous driving—from the Interstate 101-380 interchange south of San Francisco. (Photo: Ike)

Who are these three all-star upstars?

Alden Woodrow is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ike. He has spent nearly a decade as a product manager building new industrial technologies. Previously, Alden was the product lead for self-driving trucks at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group. While there, he led the team through one of the team’s biggest milestones, helping to establish the first ever “transfer hub” in Arizona to facilitate the handover of freight between self-driving trucks and human-driven trucks. Prior to Uber, Alden led product management of a flying wind turbine at Google X (formerly a startup called Makani Power), and spent a decade as an economic and environmental consultant. Alden is a graduate of Middlebury College, and holds an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business with a focus on new product development.

Nancy Sun is the Co-Founder and Chief Engineer of Ike. Prior to founding Ike, Nancy was the Engineering Lead for the self-driving truck program at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, which she joined via the Otto acquisition in 2016. Nancy’s deep expertise in systems engineering and transportation extends beyond Uber to Apple, where she was an Engineering Manager for their Special Projects Group, and electric motorcycle startup Mission Motors, where she was the VP of Advanced Development. Nancy has bachelors and masters degrees in Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it was during her years at MIT that she first developed a love of robotics. 

Jur van den Berg is the Co-Founder and CTO of Ike. Jur is one of the country’s leading autonomy experts. Prior to founding Ike, Jur was a Senior Staff Engineer at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, which he joined via the Otto acquisition in 2016. Jur has expertise in a broad range of subjects in robotics, but his core expertise is in motion planning, with a specific focus on self-driving vehicles. In 2007, Jur obtained his PhD from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. After his PhD, he was a postdoc at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of California, Berkeley, for a combined total of four years. He joined the faculty at the School of Computing at the University of Utah in 2011. After three years he left academia and joined Google to work on some of the earliest prototypes of self-driving cars.

Ike’s CEO will be a panelist on WavesTalks, “The Changing Automobile Markets and How it Impacts Freight Demand,” at this year’s MarketWaves18 this November from November 12-13 in Grapevine, Texas.

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.

One Comment

  1. I thought they had deep expertise in the trucking industry. Not a single one of them has driven a truck over the road, and in our metropolitan areas. I seriously doubt any of them even has a cdl.