By Rebecca Bellan, TechCrunch
Autonomous trucking startup Kodiak Robotics is partnering with truckload carrier C.R. England to autonomously ship Tyson Foods products between Dallas and San Antonio, Texas.
A human safety operator will be present in the one dedicated truck Kodiak is allocating to this pilot. Deliveries will begin this month, according to the company.
The pilot program is the latest in Kodiak’s growing string of paid partnerships with major carriers, and it further demonstrates the startup’s potential path to sustainability and even profitability once it removes the human safety driver from operations.
A spokesperson for Kodiak said the company aims to remove the safety operator within the next couple of years.
The pilot with Tyson will see Kodiak hauling three to five loads per week. C.R. England will have one of its human drivers bring a refrigerated trailer pre-loaded with Tyson protein products to Kodiak’s facility in Lancaster, just outside of Dallas. Then one of Kodiak’s autonomous trucks will deliver the load to a C.R. England drop yard in San Antonio. From there, a C.R. England truck and driver will deliver the trailer to its final destination in Laredo.
Kodiak says the partnership is not only emblematic of how human-driven trucks and autonomous trucks can work together, but it also provides a use case for autonomy as a solution for moving perishable products in a timely manner.
“One of the categories where C.R. England is a leader is in perishable foods, which require the safest, most reliable, on-time delivery possible,” said Chad England, CEO of C.R. England, in a statement. “Kodiak’s proven performance and commitment to customer success makes it a great partner to help us introduce autonomous service into our operations.”
As part of the partnership, C.R. England is also joining Kodiak’s Partner Development Program, which is Kodiak’s way of working with carriers to help establish autonomous freight operations and, hopefully, integrate Kodiak’s self-driving system into their fleet.
“Our intent is to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for customers, whether they need their freight moved autonomously or not,” said England.
Other companies that are part of this development program include 10 Roads Express, Werner Enterprises and U.S. Xpress. Each of those partnerships involved a short freight pilot that offered learnings into what autonomous trucking operations could look like if adopted at scale.
“For example, with some of them, we are currently deciding on the next lane that we’ll haul freight with them,” Michael Wiesinger, VP of commercialization at Kodiak, told TechCrunch. “Some of them say they want to have longer lanes. We recently announced Dallas to Atlanta and we will do more with that, so now it’s just about us figuring out together when is the right time to start those freight operations again. And how does it work from our capacity perspective, because we also have limited capacity.”
All up, Kodiak has about 30 trucks in its fleet doing more than 50 loads per week, all of which are paid commercial deliveries. Kodiak has maintained ongoing freight pilots with Ceva Logistics, Ikea and Forward Air, as well as a few other companies that the startup hasn’t yet announced publicly, according to Wiesinger.