Kodiak Robotics has emerged from stealth mode and raised $40 million in Series A funding to develop technology for self-driving trucks. The Mountain View, California-based startup will use the funding to hire more engineers and test its long-haul self-driving trucks that use cameras, LiDAR, radar, and sonar to see the road.
This news come one week after Uber shut down its self-driving truck program. Kodiak Robotics co-founder and CEO Don Burnette was also co-founder of self-driving truck company Otto, which Uber acquired for a reported $680 million. Burnette left Uber in March 2018 because the company was focusing most of its and his time developing self-driving cars. He also was an engineer on Google’s self-driving car project.
“This financing, coming just three months after founding Kodiak Robotics, is a huge validation for our vision,” says Burnette, who studied at Carnegie Mellon University. “We believe self-driving trucks will likely be the first autonomous vehicles to support a viable business model, and we are proud to have the support of such high-profile investors to help us execute on our plan.”
Kodiak Robotics co-founder and COO Paz Eshel most recently headed up the autonomous vehicle project at Battery Ventures, which led this Series A round. Other investors include CRV, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Tusk Ventures.
Trucking is a key component of the US economy, of course. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), trucks move more than 70 percent of all US freight and generate over $700 billion in revenue annually. While freight volume is at record levels, driven in part by the growth of e-commerce, the industry is struggling with a significant shortage of drivers. The ATA estimated an industry shortage of 51,000 drivers at the end of 2017, up from a shortage of 36,000 in 2016.
Burnette and Eshel co-founded Kodiak Robotics to alleviate the strain of that shortage with self-driving trucks. Burnette says in just three months Kodiak Robotics has assembled a team of about 10 “world-class” engineers who have “experience in actually shipping self-driving vehicles on public roads.”
Kodiak Robotics isn’t releasing details yet about its business plan or when we’ll initially see its fleet. But perhaps a look at Otto’s business model can shed some light on Kodiak Robotics’ approach. Otto didn’t build self-driving trucks, it retrofitted existing trucks with an aftermarket self-driving system that cost about $30,000.
The self-driving truck industry is quickly becoming crowded as many believe this type of driving – highway driving from on-ramp to off-ramp – is easier to accomplish than the challenging environments self-driving cars encounter. A number of companies are developing and testing self-driving trucks, including Embark, Starsky Robotics, TuSimple, Uber, Waymo and Anthony Levandowski’s new company Kache.ai.
Embark recently raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round raised the company’s total funding to $47 million since debuting in 2016. In February 2018, Embark completed a five-day, 2,400-mile drive from LA to Jacksonville, Fla. There was a human safety driver inside the truck for the entire trip, but the vast majority of the driving was autonomous, with hours at a time with no disengagements.