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Kodiak Robotics releases safety report on self-driving technology

The company is one of three autonomous trucking startups to voluntarily describe how it is developing and applying AV technology

(Photo credit: Kodiak)

Self-driving truck company Kodiak Robotics has released a 49-page safety self-assessment report that aims both to demonstrate the startup’s commitment to public safety and provide a detailed portrait of how the company programs and operates its autonomous vehicles.

“We believe it’s critical that we begin the process of explaining to the general public not just how we are safely testing our vehicles, but how we’re going to prove, mathematically and in plain English, that our vehicles are comprehensively safe even without a person behind the wheel,” Kodiak co-founders Paz Eshel and Don Burnette said in a letter introducing the report.

A growing number of autonomous vehicle companies are testing their vehicles on public roads, and the federal government has asked established manufacturers and startups to voluntarily outline how they are developing and applying the technologies.

To date, 20 self-driving companies have submitted the safety reports, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In addition to Ford, GM and other automakers, autonomous trucking outfits TuSimple and Ike have filed documents describing their systems and approaches. 

Defensive driving

Founded in 2018, Kodiak is one of a handful of trucking startups seeking to automate long-haul trucking. In addition to developing the technology, the company also operates as a carrier and is currently hauling commercial cargo between Dallas and Houston.

In its safety assessment, released on June 11 along with a series of blog posts, the team explains why it focuses on “structured highway driving” — not city driving — and how its systems, designed specifically for heavy-duty trucks, ensure a safe driving environment for everyone. 

“We optimize our driving for safety, not comfort: paper towels don’t care if they get jostled a bit, whereas a rideshare passenger expects a smooth ride,” the company stated.

Among the topics covered in the report is a discussion of how many of the technologies Kodiak has developed mimic the ways in which humans drive.

A case in point: Self-driving vehicles usually depend on highly detailed maps created over the course of dozens of mapping runs. But embedded in the “Kodiak Driver” is the ability to respond to visual cues such as lane markings —  even when its map doesn’t reflect what it’s seeing on the road. Such a system allows the vehicle to respond to unexpected events in the road, such as construction projects.

The company calls this approach “perception over priors — i.e., that the Kodiak Driver trusts its eyes, not its memory, and we believe it represents a significant step forward for the AV industry.”

Easing minds

Emphasizing safety has become a top priority for autonomous vehicle companies as surveys continue to show many consumers continue to be skeptical of self-driving vehicles.

The latest critique of autonomous driving came in the form of a study released last week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showing that autonomous vehicles might prevent only around a third of all crashes, undercutting some industry claims that autonomy will yield more dramatic safety benefits.

Asked about that study, Burnette, Kodiak’s CEO, told FreightWaves in an email that he had not evaluated it in detail. But he reaffirmed Kodiak’s commitment to safety, saying the company will not deploy its technology until it can “comprehensively demonstrate” that the Kodiak Driver is safer than an average human truck driver.

“We will continue to improve the safety of our trucks for decades to come,” Burnette added.

Among other topics covered by Kodiak’s report are cybersecurity, regulatory compliance and systems engineering.

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Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]