A mere week after announcing that Uber will no longer pursue autonomous vehicle technology for trucking, a new autonomous trucking company has stepped onto trucking's main stage and, interestingly, its founder has a strong connection to both Otto and Uber.
Uber famously jumped into the autonomous truck research field by acquiring startup tech firm Otto. And now, one of Otto’s co-founders, Don Burnette, has teamed up with former venture capitalist Paz Eshel to launch Kodiak, a self-driving truck startup that will continue to research and develop autonomous technology for commercial vehicles. According to CNBC, Burnett left Uber last March.
According to news reports, Kodiak has made a splash in the market by announcing it has raised $40 million in funding for its autonomous research efforts.
According to CNBC, Burnett’s Otto co-founder, Anthony Levandowski, has also recently announced that he is returning to the autonomous trucking world with his own startup technology firm, called Kache.ai. Meanwhile, another Otto alum, engineer Nancy Sun has reportedly launched a low-profile autonomous trucking startup of her own.
These are the latest developments in an on-going soap opera among tech developers to stake out a leadership position in autonomous trucking, along with the potential for huge profits should the technology ultimately prove out and gain widespread market acceptance.
Burnett gave few specifics on the business, but he did tell CNBC, "that he sees no risk of IP issues with Otto, in part because his new startup plans to buy off-the-shelf Lidar, cameras, radar, and other sensor technology that it will pair with custom software."
CNBC noted that despite Uber's failure, self-driving truck research and development are not going away because of the potential growth possible in the trucking industry. According to figures released by the American Trucking Associations, trucking is worth around $700 billion in annual revenue in the United States alone. It is also an industry famously hobbled by an ongoing driver shortage which ATA pegged at a shortfall of 51,000 last year, and projects will get exponentially worse in coming years as in-home grocery deliveries and online shopping habits increase dramatically.
Kodiak will join several other startups focused on autonomous trucks, including Starsky Robotics, Embark and TuSimple, among others.
“People tend to think that self-driving trucks are a lot like self-driving cars — that if you're running a self-driving department at a very large company with a lot of resources, you want to find as much synergy between the two projects as you can," Burnett told CNBC. "But we found that there's so much difference between driving trucks on highways and cars on downtown streets that trying to force an overlap in the algorithmic systems ends up hindering both platforms."
If you separate the two projects, like Uber did and like Waymo has, you have to decide where you're going to dedicate more of your resources, and in both of those cases, it has proven to be cars, not trucks, Burnett added.