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U.S. Xpress, Kodiak Robotics running Dallas-to-Atlanta autonomous trucking pilots

With 3rd partner, carrier embraces technology to relieve shortage of drivers

U.S. Xpress is partnering on autonomous trucking pilots from Dallas to Atlanta with Kodiak Robotics. (Photo: Kodiak)

When it comes to autonomous trucking pilot programs, U.S. Xpress is getting around.

The Chattanooga, Tennessee-based carrier is running autonomous pilots with Kodiak Robotics, its third deal with an autonomous trucking startup following partnerships with TuSimple and Aurora Innovation.

USX (NASDAQ: USX) is Kodiak’s first “cornerstone truckload partner” in its Partner Deployment Program, helping the startup deploy self-driving technology. 

The partnership also marks the launch of Kodiak’s autonomous trucking lane to the East Coast. A Kodiak truck hauling preloaded U.S. Xpress trailers completed four round trips in late March, delivering eight commercial loads in Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, the first-ever autonomous freight deliveries between the two cities, according to Kodiak.

4 round trips in 5 ½ days

The truck traveled 6,350 supervised miles, running 24 hours a day for 131 total hours, or nearly 5 ½ days. The utilization was practically double a truck with a human driver subject to 11 hours of behind the wheel in a 24-hour period under hours-of-service rules. A rotating team of four professional Kodiak safety drivers oversaw the autonomous system.

Kodiak Robotics used its tractors and safety drivers to haul U.S. Xpress freight on four roundtrips from Dallas to Atlanta covering 6,350 miles in 5 1/2 days. (Photo: Kodiak)

Increased utilization of 20 hours a day or more is one of the selling points of autonomous trucks, which proponents say will allow carriers to haul more freight with fewer trucks, increasing revenue while decreasing costs. Over time, driverless trucks will ease a shortage of long-haul drivers who can be on the road and away from home for weeks at a time.

Kodiak in February launched autonomous freight hauling on a 206-mile route between Dallas and Oklahoma City. Kodiak has been delivering freight daily on the 240-mile lane from Dallas to Houston since mid-2019 and on the 280-mile lane between Dallas and San Antonio since mid-2021.

“This pilot demonstrated to our operations teams and our customers the benefits that can come with autonomous technology,”  Eric Fuller, president and CEO of U.S. Xpress, said in a press release. “Our strategic partnership is helping both of our teams identify ways to quickly integrate and scale autonomous technology into our fleet once it is commercially available.”

An ideal autonomous route

The 780-mile route between Dallas and Atlanta on Interstate 20 is ideal for continuous autonomous operations, Kodiak said, because it’s slightly longer than what a driver is permitted to operate in a day but is too short to economically run as a team.

“We chose to make U.S. Xpress a cornerstone partner in our Partner Deployment Program because we see U.S. Xpress and its Variant division as ideal long-term partners for the deployment and scaling of our autonomous long-haul solution.”

Aurora (NASDAQ: AUR) has begun pilot routes on I-20 and Interstate 10 from Dallas-Fort Worth to El Paso, Texas, the 600-mile middle leg between Atlanta and Los Angeles. Werner Enterprises and at least one other unnamed carrier are sending loads with Aurora’s supervised autonomous system integrated into Peterbilt 579 models, the same truck that Kodiak is using.

Exploring the future

USX was an early sign-on with TuSimple, joining its advisory board, investing and reserving purpose-built autonomous trucks that TuSimple is working on with Navistar International for 2024 sale.

TuSimple (NASDAQ: TSP) is the current leader in autonomous trucking and the first to remove the human driver from the cab for 80-mile pilot runs between Tucson, Arizona, and Phoenix. It has created high-definition maps for thousands of miles of U.S. freeways and can run from Tucson to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida.

“While drivers remain the lifeblood of our industry and will always have an important place at U.S. Xpress, we’re partnering with several innovative autonomous vehicle companies so that we can quickly integrate and scale these trucks and associated technology into our fleet once it has been fully tested,” Fuller said.

Disclosure: FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller retains ownership of U.S. Xpress shares through his family trust.

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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.