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Advancing Autonomous Trucking: Kodiak Robotics and Aurora Innovation in Lancaster, Texas

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Advancing Autonomous Trucking: Kodiak Robotics and Aurora Innovation in Lancaster, Texas

In Lancaster, Texas, Kodiak Robotics and Aurora Innovation are advancing autonomous trucking technology, poised to operate without safety drivers on public roads in Texas by year’s end. Kodiak emphasizes defensive and cautious driving with its next-generation trucks, while Aurora showcases its robust capabilities in adverse weather conditions. Both companies stress ongoing safety protocols and collaboration with industry experts to ensure reliable autonomous operations. As they near full autonomy, they navigate challenges and demonstrate their commitment to enhancing road safety and operational efficiency in the freight transportation sector.

Kodiak Robotics and Aurora Innovation Showcase Autonomous Trucking Progress

An automatic tractor- trailer steered itself onto Interstate 20, securely merged into deep traffic, and eventually slowed down to 48 mph when approaching a car stopped on the highway’s shoulder.

During a morning demo ride past month near Dallas, Kodiak Robotics safety driver Robert Roland’s hands hovered over the wheel and prepared to intervene if necessary.

” It’s a completely unique world”, the next- generation truck driver said.

Trucking Dive visited the companies ‘ websites to get an up-close look at their progress toward entire autonomy as Kodiak Robotics and Aurora Innovation prepare to operate their autonomous vehicles on public roads without safety drivers. This could happen later this year in Texas.

Self-driving trucks have been conducting customer freight tests on open roads under the supervision of safety officials like Roland, and the ride gave an idea of how ready they might be for real-world driving situations.

“They drive defensively. They drive cautiously”, Kodiak Director of External Affairs Daniel Goff said.

A red Kodiak truck is parked next to other tractor-trailers at an office park where the company's Lancaster terminal is.
A Kodiak truck is parked on May 17 at its operations hub in Lancaster, Texas. Safety drivers are set to be removed from the company’s corporate freight operations.

Aurora Innovation Emphasizes Safety in Autonomous Trucking Expansion

Kodiak’s system is designed to be friendly to another drivers, slowing down and letting vehicles merge.

” The system is designed to treat unfamiliar objects as a human would: with more care”, Goff said.

A close-up view of a Kodiak truck, showing its mirror-mounted sensors.
The majority of the company’s business loads are now carried by the company’s fourth-generation trucks.

At the company’s Lancaster, Texas, operations hub, Director of Operations Don Lepard pointed out a map on a wall that shows routes where Kodiak has delivered freight for a customer for revenue. A lower “k” appears in places across California, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas.

On another wall, a message says,” Safety first and often. PERIOD”.

In local Palmer, Texas, Aurora staff stress safety efforts at a busy AV terminal as well as the company’s technology.

According to President Ossa Fisher, Aurora trucks can operate in fog and light rain and are strong enough to withstand tremendous downpours.

But deployment in ice and snow may take a couple years, she said. The precautions taken by self-driving trucks are analogous to those taken by airlines when they decide not to fly as of risky weather conditions, according to Fields.

Because there are trucks on the road and conditions that truly nobody should be driving,” we believe that will actually increase road safety,” she said.

At the Mid- America Trucking Show in March in Kentucky, Aurora Senior Safety Specialist Bryan Jones stressed the company’s emphasis on safety, noting that efforts seek to foster steady improvement.

Aurora believes it” can often be safer and often wish” to improve the company and its technology, he said.

The business is working on a safety case, and it reported that its intelligent readiness assessment was 95 % perfect as of mid-April. Aurora tries to achieve that goal in every way.

An Aurora tractor-trailer on a highway in front of traffic.
An Aurora tractor-trailer navigates traffic on the highway. The company’s lidar can see over 400 meters ahead.

Aurora Innovation: Advancing Autonomous Trucking Safety and Technology

Similar to Kodiak, Aurora uses pairs of passengers to travel in the trucks, and Aurora experts like Zach Riley use a laptop to monitor the technology to observe how the system is monitoring the environment, traffic, and hazards.

Riley noted how a sensor on Aurora’s lidar, little for mild detection and ranging, can see objects over 400 meters away. Before Riley could actually see it, the technology saw through the fog and detected and responded to incoming traffic, he recalled.

With the technology‘s ability to enhance a vehicle’s navigation of traffic environments, Riley likens it to a superpower. He claimed that he wished the technology could be installed in his car.

Drivers will also be employed, according to technology supporters, even after intelligent operations become popular.

Before the trucks arrive each day, CDL holders at Aurora’s terminals conduct Business Vehicle Safety Alliance inspections.

“We will often have a need and be using truck drivers”, Jones said at MATS.

He noted that there is always going to be risk because of all the moving parts at terminals, but that company employees “also believe that we can lower the risk by implementing intelligent solutions that we’ve seen work across various spaces.”

Jones likewise said safety training is not merely a one- time session that’s not revisited: Instead, he and Aurora’s safety team visit the terminals frequently to ensure that the training is fresh.

A blue Aurora autonomous truck inside a maintenance building.
On May 8, 2024, an Aurora automatic truck was operating inside a maintenance area. Trailers from a variety of brands are now present in the terminal.

NHTSA Mandate Shapes Safety Reporting for Autonomous Trucking

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has mandated that those engaged in intelligent operations provide details on crashes, thereby assisting in the management of companies ‘ safety records through a common database.

The database has information on incidents for almost three years as of April 15 this year, even though the incidents do no always indicate that an automatic vehicle was at fault. Manufacturers and suppliers are required to notify NHTSA of the information.

Kodiak, which just recorded 3 million miles of genuine- world operations with its technology, has reported just three incidents. No injuries were reported in any instances where trucks were being operated by a driver in human mode.

A safety driver struck a Kodiak truck at 34 mph on a Fort Worth highway in October 2023 while a Class 8 semi was veering into its lane, the company claimed in a NHTSA summary. A mirror-mounted SensorPod was scratched by slight contact, and the AV safety driver pulled through.

A Kodiak truck with an opened hood inside a terminal located in a Dallas area warehouse and office complex.
A truck inside Kodiak Robotics ‘ Lancaster, Texas, terminal on May 17. Don Lepard, director of operations, says the company’s mirror-mounted sensors are simple to replace for maintenance crews.

The NHTSA crash database lists six Aurora incidents, most of which occurred when the vehicle was operating freely, according to crash summaries. Like with Kodiak, none of those or crashes had any injuries reported.

How the technology can deal with problems was demonstrated in a March collision on a west Texas highway. According to an NHTSA summary, a car veered into the truck’s lane and collided with the remaining rear of the trailer while an Aurora truck was operating independently at 64 mph. In the end, both vehicles were ready to leave the scene.

However, the potential for more dangerous situations is raising concern among truckers.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association EVP Lewie Pugh remarked how a top-performing trucker can drive millions of miles carefully, noting that “we’d like to see as little restraint and oversight as what we see on drivers who have already proven themselves.

An OOIDA spokesperson wrote in an email that the public should n’t be the subject of road testing.

Setting a safety standard is a difficult problem to solve, according to Werner Enterprises ‘ SVP of Van and Expedited Chad Dittberner, noting that the company now has over 600 drivers who have driven over 1 million miles without an accident.

Dittberner, a member of the Kodiak Industry Advisory Council, said safety is Werner’s priority for AVs and the rest of its fleet.

“The ultimate goal is a truck that’s always involved in an accident”, he said,” which is the same goal we have with our drivers today”.

Leo Portal

Leo is an expert in the field of smart city research and an overall tech-enthusiast with an emphasis on smart energy, IOT, smart homes and governance. After a master degree in international administration at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and a master in public management at Fudan University in China, he pursued research studies in the field of smart cities at the European University Institute. This led him to publish multiple articles on smart cities. Among them “Using Smart People to Build Smarter: How Smart Cities Attract and Retain Highly Skilled Workers to Drive Innovation (Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland)” published in the Smart Cities and Regional Development Journal (SCRD) and “Establishing Participative Smart Cities: Theory and Practice”, also published in the SCRD Journal. He regularly audits and advises municipalities and regional governments on their smart city strategies. He is currently writing a chapter for Springer on smart mobility in French smart cities.

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