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Kodiak Robotics getting more than tire data from Bridgestone partnership

Tiremaker will integrate smart-sensing technologies into autonomous trucks

Bridgestone Americas is making a minority investment in autonomous trucking software startup Kodiak Robotics and sharing tire data to make trucking safer. (Photo: Kodiak Robotics)

Tiremaker Bridgestone Americas will integrate its smart-sensing technologies into autonomous trucks from Kodiak Robotics and make an undisclosed minority investment in the startup software developer..

The partnership announced Wednesday includes an observer role for the Japan-based company on San Francisco Bay area-based Kodiak’s board of directors. Kodiak hauls freight on Texas freeways with high-autonomy software monitored by a safety driver.

“Automated vehicles offer benefits to commercial fleet customers and society, including safer roads with fewer unexpected incidents, and upwards of 20% savings in fuel and efficiency,” said Paolo Ferrari, Bridgestone Corp. global chief solutions officer, and president and CEO, Bridgestone Americas.

“Advancements in tire-centric technologies are critical to unlocking greater innovation in mobility, while also delivering significant sustainability benefits,” Ferrari said.

Third-party validation

For Kodiak, the Bridgestone deal is a third-party validation of its technology, co-founder and CEO Don Burnette said.

“What we think this does is show that Kodiak’s technology really resonates with others in the market,” he told FreightWaves.

Nizar Trigui, Bridgestone’s chief technology officer and group president, Solutions Businesses, will be a nonvoting observer on Kodiak’s board of directors.

Kodiak is a relative latecomer to autonomous trucking. But it moves revenue-generating loads for undisclosed customers. Kodiak plans to deploy driverless trucks in the next few years, which will require full-vehicle intelligence to assure safe, efficient and sustainable autonomy.

Smart tires yield safety-enhancing data

Kodiak and Bridgestone will work together to advance self-driving trucking technology, from tires and sensors to predictive maintenance.

“Most of us drive around assuming our wheels are going to work,” Burnette said. “When you have an autonomous vehicle, the interaction with the road is really vital when it comes to safety.”

Smart tire technology can collect data and track if weight is evenly distributed. Uneven weight distribution changes the dynamics of the vehicle.

“It changes the way they drive,” Burnette said. “With tire pressure, temperature, and force measuring technologies that Bridgestone is creating, we have access to that information, which gives us information about the vehicle dynamics, controllability, maneuverability; and thus, safe and reliable operation of the vehicle.”

Tracking to the millisecond

At a high level, tire companies know how to track and aggregate wear-and-tear data, tire pressure, temperature, GPS and telematics data to learn how vehicles are driven over time. 

“Where autonomous technology comes in is that we have the data about exactly how the vehicle was driven down to the millisecond of exactly what throttle, steering, forces, braking, all that kind of stuff,” Burnette said. 

“In real time, we have the fine-grain data that we can provide to them so that they can then build much more detailed and more accurate models of the wear and tear of their tires and their systems.”

Tire wear monitoring is critical for fleets that must balance maintenance and wear with costly installations of new tires. Bridgestone and Kodiak think they can build in predictive maintenance — knowing a tire is going to go bad before it does.

“If you drive in such-and-such a way, then you can maximize the lifetime,” Burnette said. “You can maximize the chances that on this given run, nothing bad is going to happen.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.