As some autonomous trucking startups seek to eventually eliminate drivers’ jobs completely, Starsky Robotics is taking a different approach.
The three-year startup, headquartered in San Francisco, is developing autonomous trucks with remote driving capabilities. It launched its new campaign titled “The future of driverless trucking is not driverless” on June 11.
Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, Starsky’s chief executive and co-founder, said the company is different from other self-driving startups because it pairs a “unique combination of human decision-making and automation.”
Seltz-Axmacher explained to FreightWaves, “While others are trying to build fully autonomous trucks, we are building a truck that drives with no person in it and is remote-controlled for the first and last mile and that’s a completely different mindset. We are not eliminating drivers’ jobs. Instead, we are moving them from a truck to a safe and comfortable office where they utilize years of their long-haul trucking experience, but remain close to their families and go home between shifts.”
Starsky currently has three autonomous trucks, but plans to ramp up to 25 driverless trucks by 2020. However, this goal cannot be achieved without the revenue generated by Starsky’s traditional over-the-road trucking operation, which consists of 36 trucks. The company got its operating authority in March 2017.
“All of our trucks have been regularly hauling freight for money,” he said. “While our autonomous trucks are primarily testing in Florida and Texas, we’re hauling freight in most of the lower 48 [states].”
The company is currently looking to expand its fleet by adding more over-the-road truck drivers.
The goal is to eventually transition the most qualified truck drivers over to the autonomous vehicle side to tele-operate the trucks from an office environment.
“We test new routes with manually-operated trucks, which helps us find and pick the best routes for driverless trucks,” Seltz-Axmacher said. “We also use the fleet to get to know road drivers and evaluate them before putting them into autonomous trucks.”
The self-driving company, founded by Seltz-Axmacher and Kartik Tiwari, has established key partnerships with companies like Penske Truck Leasing, Schneider Logistics and Transport Enterprise Leasing. Since 2017, Starsky has raised nearly $22 million in equity from investors like Trucks VC and Shasta Ventures.
Starsky completed a 7-mile driverless trip in February 2018 in Florida and is gearing up for its next driverless trip sometime later this year, although a location has not been finalized yet.
Piloting trucks remotely will help solve the turnover problem within the trucking industry and will attract younger drivers, Seltz-Axmacher said.
The American Trucking Associations said the turnover rate at large fleets averaged 89 percent in 2018 – up two points from the previous year.
A huge problem in trucking in North America is that it’s really hard to get people to spend a month at a time on the road, which is really only a problem in long-haul trucking,” Seltz-Axmacher said.
He said that trucking is hard work with steep personal sacrifices and “making driving an office job uniquely solves the long-haul trucking problem.” It will also re-shape the logistics industry in North America, Seltz-Axmacher said.
“While there are some road warriors who never want to leave the road, we’ve found that most would love to come home to their family after a long day,” Seltz-Axmacher said. “Not only are Starsky drivers excited by the prospect of career progression to [remote] driving, but also they are extremely proud to be part of the team and contribute to shaping the future of trucking.”