Kodiak Robotics is developing a highway-adjacent autonomous trucking hub in Atlanta with Pilot Co. that could foreshadow the startup’s approach to eventual long-haul driverless freight movement using an undetermined number of Pilot and Flying J locations.
Knoxville, Tennessee-based Pilot operates 750 truck stops and travel plazas in 44 states and six Canadian provinces. It made an undisclosed “strategic investment” in privately held Kodiak. Pilot will have a seat on the Mountain View, California-based startup’s five-member board of directors.
The Pilot investment is its second big move into addressing the technology-driven changes coming to the trucking industry. In July, Pilot announced a cross-country network of high-speed charging stations for electric vehicles in partnership with General Motors.
“The announcements overlapped,” John Tully, Pilot vice president of strategy and business development, told FreightWaves. “The work to get to this point has been substantial across both endeavors.”
Pilot’s 2 years with Kodiak
Pilot has worked with Kodiak for about two years. They started in Dallas at one end of an early test route for Kodiak’s Level 4 high-autonomy technology. Those efforts shifted to Atlanta, where the companies are determining what existing infrastructure is usable for autonomous functions.
“It gives us a hub to launch operations, including all of the different services we need for a smooth, safe and reliable autonomy operation,” Kodiak CEO Don Burnette said.
Other autonomous trucking companies, including TuSimple, Waymo Via and Embark Trucks, are working with Ryder System Inc. Each has a slightly different project using Ryder’s network of maintenance facilities.
Kodiak focuses on hub-to-hub long-haul freight. Human drivers meet its loads and handle drop-and-hook operations to send the freight onto distribution centers. Pilot and Kodiak envision truck stops as ideal for autonomous truck inspections, maintenance, refueling and data offloading for mapping, collection and feature improvements.
“We could be an interesting hub given where our locations already are,” Tully said.
Kodiak, which like other autonomous trucking startups, focused initially on the Dallas-to-Houston corridor on Interstate 35, added the Atlanta-to-Dallas route in a test with U.S. XPress. It also is hauling loads for Ceva Logistics from Dallas to Oklahoma City and to Florida in partnership with 10 Roads Express, which moves mail for the U.S. Postal Service.
Kodiak’s approach: Partner, don’t build infrastructure
“We want to make sure we have a clear path to deploying this technology broadly across the United States,” Burnette told FreightWaves. “We’re not going to do it by building our own infrastructure throughout the entire country. We have to partner with folks who are already embedded in that industry.”
Pilot continues to work with other autonomous trucking startups — Tully declined to identify which ones — but the company is investing only in Kodiak.
“Kodiak was a great fit for us and folks we really like working with,” Tully said. Pilot and Kodiak both have relationships with Bridgestone Americas, which made a minor investment in Kodiak in June 2021.
Despite operating one of the largest trucking fleets in the country for hauling fuel and to support oil field operations in West Texas, Pilot does not have any near-term autonomous plans for those trucks..
“There’s constant change as to where to pick up and where to drop off,” Tully said. “It’s more customer-focused for us on how we might develop our travel centers to act as a wayport when it’s important to our customers.”